Friday, March 9, 2007

Our Father

In our RCIA group last Wednesday we spent half of the time reflecting on the Our Father. There were many valuable insights shared but we ran out of time and missed what I think is the most valuable insight into the unique nature of this prayer of Jesus. The Our Father is unique compared to what we know of other Jewish prayers of the time because of intimacy with which Jesus addresses the Father. We know that the most common names used for God in Hebrew scriptures emphasize the transcendence and power of God. For example:
  • Elohim means mighty or strong one.
  • Adonai means master or ruler or lord.
  • Yahweh most likely means the self-existent one (I am who I am).
  • El Shaddai means God almighty.

There are many other titles given to God but mostly they emphasize the power or the strength of God. The name of God was held in such reverence that writing it was a dangerous act. Often the titles of God are circumlocutions designed to get around actually using the name of God (for example, one title of God translates simply as "the name").

Jesus by contrast calls God Abba, a word which would have been used by a young child addressing their father. It means simply "daddy". So, this title of God together with the petitions that follow gives us a picture of a God who is gentle and forgiving. A God who asks only our love in return. St Hilary in the Office of Readings for Thursday of the Second week of Lent explains it well while explaining the fear of the Lord. "Fear is not to be taken in the sense that common usage gives it. Fear in this ordinary sense is the trepidation our weak humanity feels when it is afraid of suffering something it does not want to happen. (But) For us the fear of God consists wholly in love, and perfect love of God brings our fear of him to its perfection. Our love for God is entrusted with its own responsibility: to observe his counsels, to obey his laws, to trust his promises." So, God is obviously transcendent and mighty and powerful but God is also gentle and forgiving and near to us. It is this "daddy" aspect of God that gives us the confidence to pray the Lord's Prayer.

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