The Our Father and the Kingdom

Last Sunday we celebrated Christ the King, this Sunday we begin Advent, where we await his coming.  A good time to think about Christ the King.

I have written in the past about the Our Father.  There are many ways to pray it, many ways to think about it.  You can just pray it straight.  But I find it fruitful to have some theme, to keep me paying attention.  I have had times where “thy will be done” was a fervent enough pray to give meaning to the whole thing, or other times, more tranquil, where I was thinking about God’s fatherhood.  I wrote about how it can describe twelve steps, from heaven down to earth, or how you can think about it in connection with the sacraments. 

But a friend who does scholarship in Judaism recently introduced me to a new focal point: the kingdom.


My friend’s main insight was about the first petition: “Hallowed be thy name.”  This is, of course, the most obscure part in English—but that’s the fault of our English tradition, not of the prayer Jesus taught us.  “Hallowed” means sanctified: “made holy,” or “treated as holy.”   

One way the Old Testament talks about “hallowed be thy name” is in terms of the reputation we give God.  When Israel sees God’s “children, the work of my hands, in his midst, they will sanctify my name” (Isaiah 29:23).  But when God seems to be absent, “Their rules wail, declares the Lord, and continually all the day my name is despised” (Isaiah 52:5). 

Most of all, when God’s people are evil, they cause God’s name not to be sanctified: “Wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land’” (Ezekiel 36:20).

St. Paul summarizes this as, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24).

It is easy to think about this in light of the sex abuse scandals: the name of God is blasphemed because of our sins. 


The flipside is that the name of God should be sanctified, revered, “hallowed,” by the way we show forth his goodness. 

That happens, in part, by our holiness, by our good works, which show God’s work in our life.

But, it must be said, our actions will never be good enough to hallow God’s name.  It is also by our mercy, our awareness that he is good, and he is strong, though we are not—our humility—that we can make God’s name hallowed.  

Or rather, that God can hallow his own name through us.  If he does anything good in us, it is to lead us and others to himself, to hallow his name.


When you think about the first petition in this way, you can think of the whole Our Father as begging God to let the nations see him through us.

“Hallowed be thy name.”  That is our greatest prayer.  Just that they may know you—that we may know you.

“Thy kingdom come.”  They will know God when we act like he is our king, in our individual and social lives.  That is how God’s name is hallowed.  And, conversely, his kingdom is nothing more or less than us knowing who he is, living in the light of his mercy.  His kingdom comes when his name is hallowed—and his name will be hallowed as his kingdom comes.

“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  Again the same: God is king when we live according to his will, and accept his will, in his commandments, in his providence, even in the suffering he sends us.  When we accept his will, we make him king, and we let his name be known and hallowed.

“Give us this day our daily bread.”  So what do I desire?  What is the one thing I ask for myself?  The strength to let his kingdom come in and through me.  I don’t ask for more than that—but I do ask for that strength, keep me going God. 

“Forgive us trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”  I recognize that on my account, his name is blasphemed, and so I beg his forgiveness.  But I know, too, that his name is mercy. That I make him known not by my perfection but by living under that mercy.

“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  Let me only live in that kingdom, let me never step out of it, so that I may know your name and make it known, so that your name be hallowed.

“Our Father, who art in heaven.”  May I know you, and may they know you.  We ask for nothing else.

Thirty-Third Sunday: With Empty Hands

My apologies for posting this so late.

In the liturgical year, November is a time of dying: the end of the Church year, which rebegins in Advent, as we prepare for the new birth of Christmas; the death we experience in the natural world as the cold sets in; and the end of our in-order reading of the year’s Gospel, as it approaches Jesus’s death, and Jesus talks about the end times.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus responds to people’s admiration of the “costly stones and votive offerings” at the Temple by saying, “there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”  All things end, now fades all earthly splendor.

Our first reading, from the prophet Malachi, is nicely paired: “Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven.”  The “blazing oven,” in Hebrew, is more literally a “gleaming flame.”  So when the reading goes on to say that just as those who fear God will experience “the sun of justice with its healing rays,” we realize that the same fire—the fire of death and the fire of God—is destruction for some, and healing for others, depending how we relate to God.


In this week’s Gospel, after he tells them that the costly stones of the Temple will be thrown down, they ask Jesus about the end of time.  His answer isn’t nice.

Terrifying things will come—and false Christ’s will claim to save us.  But neither of those things are the end.  He doesn’t say, “when something scary happens, that must be the end.”  He says, “Lots of scary things will happen—long before you even get to the end.”

“Nation will rise against nation,” “earthquakes, famines, and plagues”: these aren’t the things of the end, these are situation normal.  It’s a real danger of our rich American society that we imagine that we can escape from bad things.  Of course we do our best—but the world is a scary place.  And that’s not even the end.


But even worse than the temptation of false Christ’s (and false predictions of the end), and even worse than the external threats (earthquakes, famines and plagues), the worst suffering will be on account of our faith.  How’s that for a Savior?  This one says, “If you follow me, you will get hurt.”

“They will seize and persecute you . . . because of my name.”  Following Jesus is not supposed to make life easy.  He says it will make life hard. 

Then he explains how to respond: “You are not to prepare your defense beforehand.”  It’s tempting to think the threat of persecution means we need to defend ourselves.  Jesus sends us in barehanded—just as he went to his own death.

Part of our defenselessness is that Jesus promises that even our families and friends will turn again us, “and they will put some of you to death.”  There is no one we can trust.

Or rather, we go not empty-handed, but armed by him alone, trusting in him alone: “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking.”  Our strength will not prevail.  We need to renounce our strength.  But his strength is sufficient: “a wisdom . . . that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.”

It’s worth noting that death itself will be like this: we will stand alone and defenseless.  The only one who can save us is the one who conquered death on the Cross.


Real Christianity is scary; it involves a kind of hopelessness.  “I do not promise to make you happy on earth,” Mary told Bernadette—and Jesus tells us over and over in the Gospel.  If you’re looking for a God who will make things easy and nice, the Gospel is the wrong place to look.

And yet there is hope beyond the hopelessness, blessed joy in our sorrows and sufferings, Resurrection on the other side of the Cross.  If we call to Jesus, he will sustain us.


Our second reading adds a funny little angle.  The Lectionary is perhaps less successful than usual in its deployment of Second Thessalonians.  It’s hard to capture the genius of this little letter. 

This reading doesn’t give us the central topic of the letter, I suppose because that topic is summarized in the other readings: “Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him,” it says, and like our other two readings, it predicts the calamities we have to look forward to.

But then it makes a funny turn, and this is what the Lectionary gives us: “In toil and drudgery, night and day we worked, so as not to burden any of you.”  “We instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food.” 

The genius of Second Thessalonians is to say our response to all these dire predictions is not to stockpile water and weapons, not to gossip about when or how we think the end will come—but to put our head down and trudge along. 

As Jesus says at the end of our Gospel: “By your perseverence you will secure your lives.”  The real excitement is to abandon ourselves to him. 

Are you ready to meet Jesus?

Thirty-Second Sunday: I am the Resurrection

This week’s Gospel story is easy to understand, but its lessons are harder to find.

The Sadducees ask Jesus a trick question: “At the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?  For all seven had been married to her.” 

Jesus responds that it’s a false dilemma, but his reasoning gets more and more strange.


First, he says there is no marriage—which answers the question by making it worse: does that mean that heaven will destroys our earthly loves? 

Second, he explains why there is no marriage: “because they cannot die.”  (Our translation leaves out the “because,” but “because” is a fascinating word when you’re trying to understand a reading; it shows how the writer thinks the sentence is relevant.)  What does the inability to die have to do with not getting married?  And even more, what does it have to do with earthly marriage disappearing?

Third, he explains the not dying: “because they are like the angels.”  (It’s a funny word, literally “angel-equals.”)  Does that mean we resurrect without human bodies?  Or that angels have human bodies?  The Tradition answers both those answers “no”—but how are they like angels?

And fourth, he gives his final answer: Since at the burning bush God tells Moses that he is the God of Abraham, Abraham must have risen from the dead.  I don’t find that argument convincing at all.  If I say the United States is the country of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, I am not making any claims about the resurrection. 

Jesus’s argument seems a bizarre chaining together of claims that do not clarify each other.  And anyway, who cares?  That there is a resurrection is of course important.  But what does this encounter with the Sadducees add to my understanding of it?

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A first clue is the word “age.”  The Sadducees conclude without that word: “At the resurrection whose wife will that woman be?”  But Jesus responds by introducing it: “The children of this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are made worthy to attain to the coming age and to the resurrection of the dead . . . .”

More than angel-equality or inability to die, these two “ages” suggest mystery.  Like the Sadducees, we imagine that heaven is just a slight tweak on this life.  Okay, we can’t die anymore, maybe we grow wings, but we imagine things will be about the same on the other side of death.

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But here, at the beginning of his response to the Sadducees, Jesus tells us that the key to thinking about the Resurrection is to realize that it’s a different world, a different “age.”  (The Greek word means something like “forever”—and Jesus is saying there is “this forever” and a different “forever.”) 

He is saying that the Sadducees—and we—lack imagination in our thinking about heaven.  Or perhaps we are using our imaginations too much, trying to picture something that matches our experience here.  To the contrary, says Jesus, no eye has seen, no ear has heard.  You have no idea what it will be like. 

Rather than trying to iron out the details—or to disprove the Resurrection because we can’t iron out the details—we need to realize that all will be transformed. 


(How will things be transformed?  No sin and no death is a pretty big change.  Try to imagine a new world where everyone loves each other perfectly—where everyone has been “made worthy of the resurrection.”  Spiritually, maybe it’s not that the earthly love of marriage will be wiped away, but that it will be perfected, so that we all love one another with the intensity of spousal and familial love, no longer need to guard our modesty from prying eyes, and no longer need sexual intimacy to kindle our love.  And what will the body be like, without death and suffering, including the ache of longing?  Pretty hard to imagine!) 


A second key to this reading is Jesus’s interpretation of Scripture. 

What he says about the burning bush is not convincing.  He hasn’t found a proof text that proves to every skeptical reader that the writer of Exodus believed in the Resurrection.

But it is an interesting rereading of that story.  Jesus finds in God’s words to Moses a deeper, fuller meaning than we would have expected.  There’s more to the story, a deeper statement about who God is, and how he relates to Moses, and to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—and to us. 

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The Scripture is not confirming Jesus’s authority.  Rather, Jesus is lending his authority to Scripture.  He is showing that he understands Scripture at a deeper level, takes Scripture to a deeper level, than we could find without him. 

And how?  Because Jesus knows that other “age” with the intimacy of someone who lives there.  He can talk about the God of the Burning Bush as someone who knows the Father face-to-face, who burns with the same light and heat.

In fact, what we learn is not something about the Resurrection, but something about Jesus, and about the God of that coming “age.”  Because Jesus himself is the Resurrection and the Life. 

How could you contemplate Jesus as heaven himself?