Lord’s Prayer: Being, Not Doing
User's Guide to Sunday, July 24
July 24 is the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C). Readings: Genesis 18:20-32; Psalm 138:1-3, 6-8; Colossians 2:12-14; Luke 11:1-13.
We know the Our Father so well, we can forget what it means. In today’s Gospel, Luke gives a slightly different version, which can help us consider its meaning. The prayer, it turns out, is not about doing the kinds of things it takes to be a better Christian. It’s about being the kind of person who is a better Christian. You see it in nearly every petition.
“Hallowed be thy name” means not just that God’s name is holy, but that our way of life should show that God’s name is holy. The Catechism (2814) describes how this works by citing a complaint of St. Paul against bad Christians: “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” God’s name will only be hallowed as it should if we are holy.
“Thy kingdom come,” the next petition, likewise depends not just on God, but on us. “The kingdom of God is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit,” says the Catechism (2819). The way God’s kingdom comes to the world is through us, it says, when we cooperate with God in his work of redemption.
Jesus himself explains the next petition: “Give us each day our daily bread.”
He compares our prayers to a man who knocks on a friend’s door at midnight asking for loaves of bread. “If he does not get up to give the visitor the loaves because of their friendship, he will give him whatever he needs because of his persistence,” he says.
That last word, “persistence,” could be even better translated as “shamelessness,” say scholars. They also say that “seek,” “knock” and “ask” in the next line are present imperative verbs, as in “Keep seeking, and you will find; keep knocking, and it will be opened.”
Thus the believer doesn’t simply do these things once to find an answer; the Christian’s attitude of seeking and knocking is what yields results. He who is constantly asking and reaching for his daily bread is the one who gets fed.
It’s the same with the petition “Forgive us our sins as we forgive everyone in debt to us.” God doesn’t keep a sheet of the debts we have forgiven and cross-checks it with a list of the sins we need forgiven; rather, by being the type of person who is forgiving, we become the type of person who can be forgiven.
In each case, the Christian way of being is a question of attitude: Do we have the attitude that allows God’s name to be hallowed and his kingdom to come? Or does the way we live make God look powerless?
So how do we acquire this attitude if we don’t have it?
The first words of the Lord’s Prayer given an indication: “Our Father.” If we treat God as a distant and powerless figure, he will look that way in our lives. If we treat him as a powerful Father, loving and caring, our lives will reflect that.
That’s the way Abraham treats him in the first reading: a great Father who is ready to correct his children, but is always susceptible to an appeal to his love.
The second reading goes further. Not only is he Our Father, but we are one with his Divine Son.
“You were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him,” says the Letter to the Colossians. “He brought you to life along with him.”
We have a great Father who not only adopted us to be his children, but sacrificed everything for us, in Christ.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.
His book What Pope Francis Really Said is available for preorder at Amazon.com.
- July 24-Aug. 6, 2016
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