Letter to Dan J. Russ “The Dangers of the Lord’s Prayer” continued…
So, when we pray the Our Father, also called the Lord’s Prayer, we start by asking for a Father, not a mother and we ask that He be ours, not mine. We go on to give Him permission to hide from us! What else can be meant by “who art in Heaven? (By the way “art” is an archaic second-person singular English form for “you are” as in “thou art,” just in case you were curious. Or perhaps you didn’t notice that you were using an archaic second-person singular English form because when we pray we use fancy words of which we have no real understanding. We’ve just been saying them for so long, even though they don’t really mean anything, or we don’t even notice that we are saying things whose meaning we are clueless, which is why I am writing this article anyway!)
Our Father who art (read: ARE) in heaven, not on earth, which means we will trust Him even though we can’t see Him. I don’t know about you, but I would rather see Him. I am like the little kid who raids the cookie-jar because Papa who would swat my little behind isn’t in the room at the moment and when he comes in, sees me covered with cookie crumbs and standing on a chair next to the empty cookie-jar asks me, “Did you eat the cookies after I told you not to?” I sincerely say, “No!” and it’s off to the wood shed once again!
I would much rather have a Father who was right there in the kitchen either forcing me to be a good little boy by his presence, or better still, a father who hangs around ladling out cookies and hugs. I would like to pray “Our Father who art right here at my beck and call.” Instead if I say His prayer, I must be like Jesus who prayed the 22nd Psalm from the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” However the Psalm ends in hope and trust. “For he has not despised or scorned the suffering of the afflicted one. He has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.”
The Father may have been hidden on Calvary, but He was not distant! To say Jesus’ prayer is to want His Father, not a Father of my own design. We are saved by grace, through faith (trust), not by timely intervention. “Who art in heaven” is a promise to live by faith, not by appearances. I don’t know about you, but I am much better at appearances than I am at the real thing.
Next we have the dreadful words, “Hallowed be thy name” (Another grammatical note “Thy” is the second person singular familiar form, also archaic. It is familiar, not formal. It is like the “tu” in French or Spanish or Italian, or like the “du” in German. Most people think “thou” and “thee” and “thy” are fancy, and we only say them to God because He is so very big and powerful and we are all so very impressed down here. It is exactly the opposite. Once upon a time, we used “thou” and “thee” for friends, parents, relatives, children and those of less social standing. “You” was reserved for important people. We say “thou” to God because we are on familiar terms with God who, like our papas, loves us and would bounce us on His knees of we would let Him.
“Thou” is a word denoting intimacy that has passed out of modern English, probably because real intimacy has passed out of much of our conversation. Interestingly enough the “thou who art” as well as the “Father” in the Lord’s Prayer place Christianity in irreconcilable conflict with Islam. Muslims think that the Supreme Being is completely other and is not intimate with any of his creatures. He certainly is not “father.” Where was I? Oh, yes….. “Hallowed be thy name”).
“Hallow” is a verb. It means to sanctify, to consecrate, to make holy. Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address, a speech at the dedication of a military cemetery on the grounds of the Battle of Gettysburg, said, “We cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground.” Hallow, consecrate, and dedicate all mean the same thing. How, in any sense can you and I, “…dedicate or consecrate the name of the Almighty? We cannot, except in one sense. The Jews have always understood the phrase “the sanctification of the name” to mean living publicly as a Jew and in particular dying because you are a Jew.
To “hallow the Name” means to cling to one’s public identity as God’s chosen even if it means death. In short, when you say “Hallowed be Thy Name,” you are volunteering for martyrdom. You are willing to die for God. You are saying, “May You use my life and, if need be, my death so that the world will know and honor You.” Next time you say the “Our Father” that phrase should catch in your throat. Let’s go on to ruin some more of the world’s most beloved prayer.
“Thy kingdom come.” The word in Greek usually translated as “kingdom” is “basileia.” When you and I say “kingdom” we mean a political system or a geographical territory, as in the phrase, “the Kingdom of England” that land of fine weather, haute cuisine and randy royalty. Though basileia can include these senses, they are not its primary meaning. Looking at the Arndt and Gingrich “Greek English Lexicon of the New Testament” (University of Chicago and Cambridge presses) 1,000 pages of philological obscurity, basileia is primarily defined “kingship, royal power, royal rule.” A king is a “Basileus.” He has “basileia.”
Herod the Great was the King of Judea when Christ was born. He had been a political enforcer for the Hashmon (Maccabee) family who had made themselves kings of the Holy Land after kicking out the Syrian Greeks. Herod managed slowly to kill most of the Hashmon family, and after allying himself with Pompey the Great, Roman general and boyfriend of Queen Cleopatra, he conquered the Holy Land and had himself confirmed as king by the Roman Senate.
The Romans considered themselves able to do such things, so they conferred royal status, royal dignity on Herod who actually had all the noblesse of a junkyard dog. That is how basileia worked. It was royal dignity, inherited, won, conferred, but it was a quality of the king that entitled him to political power. It isn’t a geographical place or even heaven when you die. The Kingdom of God, or as Matthew puts it, the Kingdom of Heaven, is God’s authority, sovereignty, royal power. When I say “thy kingdom come,” I am promising to recognize God’s definition of royalty. So what’s God’s definition of royalty? Jesus!
He was born in barn, on the run from the authorities as an infant, worked in the building trades, mocked by His relatives, arrested, tortured, spat on, laughed at and ultimately executed as a criminal. That’s true royalty. His throne was a cross and his crown was made of thorns.
Who am I kidding? I don’t want God’s royalty. I want the Kardashians. I get excited about meeting people who are famous for being famous. I want their autographs. I want to watch them on Dancing With The Stars and I pretend that Princess Di was somehow heroic for dying in a drunken car crash in Paris with her rich boyfriend having left her horse-faced royal husband and her kids back in some drafty old palace in London. The outpouring of grief at her death amazed me. It was sad. Any untimely death is sad. But the rotting mounds of flowers, the near riots of grieving people and the maudlin songs composed by ageing pop stars of questionable tastes were beyond my understanding.
We get all excited about famous reprobates while we ignore the person next to us who is made in the image and likeness of God, like the glitterati and you and I. Heaven mourns for the tramp on the street who dies in the cold as well as some poor princess who chose to live in the cold of a loveless palace and the icy glare of fame. They are both infinitely sad and infinitely mourned by a Father in heaven who cherished them both.
Basileia, the good news of the kingdom, means that every human being, no matter how poor or how rich is the same in Heaven’s sight, they are potentially princes and princesses of the God’s royal family, and I should respect one as much as the other, remembering that the King of Heaven was a working stiff who died without a nickel to His name.
When I say “Thy kingdom come” I am asking the Almighty to give me a reverence for all human beings. I am asking for the vision to reverence the poor, the old, the sick, the crippled as much as the world reverences the rich, the powerful, and the beautiful. I am asking for the gift to see beauty where the world sees ugliness. I am renouncing the values and the preferences of the world. Put me at the back table with the ragged people. That’s where the important guests are seated. At least that is what I am saying when I say, “Thy Kingdom come.”
Next Week: We’ve got a lot more of the Our Father to ruin.