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.

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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. 

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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.

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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.

eric.m.johnston

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