Gerhard Lohfink’s old classic “Jesus and Community” is a core text for a course I am doing called “Understanding The Church and Mary As Its Model”. You don’t get the good stuff like that in a Presbyterian seminary.
He shows us how the opening two lines of the Our Father:
Father, hallowed be your name,
your Kingdom come.
take up four words in each line in Greek, two in Aramaic and so in form and in function serve to say things so similar to each other they should never be separated. We might just as easily translate them:
Sanctify your name,
Let your Kingdom come!
But this whole structure is curiously indirect to us. It is all about God doing things. For God’s sake. In a Western culture that has drank deeply of the Gospel but has forgotten how its thirst was quenched, ideas like “face” and “pride” and “name” are remote. They speak of primitive places where there is too much sand and not enough technology. What kind of God is Jesus revealing to us in this prayer everyone knows off by heart?
Well Lohfink argues that Jesus is remixing the Jewish prophet Ezekiel, who preached during a period of exile, when the people of God were forced out of the land that God had supposedly given them. What kind of miserable God can’t even preserve his “special friends”. In this context, God gives Ezekiel this word:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.
Through Ezekiel, God comforts these downtrodden refugee Jews. In keeping with his character, which is really what “God’s glory” is, what “sanctifying” or “hallowing” his name is, he will draw Israel together again in a new way and restore them fresh into their inheritance.
Fast forward through the centuries and you have the disciples ask Jesus, “what should we say when we pray”. And Jesus responds, “Pray as if Ezekiel was right…” Or in more accurate terms:
Our Father, You are in heaven. Hallowed be your name.
Your Kingdom come…
In this prayer we know off by heart, even in the first syllables of this prayer, what Jesus does is communicate to those of us who have ears to hear and the patience it takes to dwell on such things, that through him God is coming good on his promises. That through him, Israel is being gathered again, re-created. And that through him the Kingdom of God has come amongst us. This is what it means for God to “hallow” or “sanctify” His own name. His utter trustworthiness and consistency is being revealed through Jesus. And so when we say this old prayer, we are not just quoting Jesus and addressing “Abba”. We are joining together with the generations of Christians long gone and with the centuries of Jews who waited in joyful anticipation for the coming of the Kingdom.
It always amazes me how deep and rich the words of Jesus are. I sort of despise talking about the Bible as “literature” because it marks out a playing field that can’t hold it. But if only we took this prayer and considered the allusions and references and the density and intricacy of thought that is expressed in such a way that a child can comprehend, more than that, that children actually do comprehend and do join in on what is happening, we would be left with a troubling impression.
If Jesus wasn’t the Son of God, it would have taken the Son of God to invent him.
Your Correspondent, Wise, like a genetically manipulated shark