Excerpt from The Universe in 57 Words

We need to recap­ture a bit of the shock that Jesus’ first stu­dents would have expe­ri­enced when they heard this address. They were like­ly star­tled on at least three fronts.

Inti­ma­cy

First, Jesus sig­nals an aston­ish­ing lev­el of access to God. We know Jesus addressed God as Abba—an Ara­ma­ic word that car­ries per­haps a touch more respect than the Eng­lish term dad­dy, but no less ten­der­ness. In teach­ing us to pray Our Father, Jesus is invit­ing us into that same sort of inti­ma­cy with the God of the universe.

For Jesus’ first lis­ten­ers — Jews who had been taught all sorts of pro­hi­bi­tions relat­ed to address­ing God with the prop­er rev­er­ence — the invi­ta­tion to address him as Father” or Abba” must have been mind-bog­gling. Some­thing about the way humans are able to relate to God has shift­ed dra­mat­i­cal­ly, and it has every­thing to do with Jesus.

The­olo­gian Bax­ter Kruger tells a sto­ry that cracks open a bit of the mir­a­cle on offer. Bax­ter was in his office one Sat­ur­day after­noon when his young son and a play­mate appeared, decked out in cam­ou­flage, evi­dent­ly embroiled in a game of Army. My son peers around the cor­ner of the door and looks at me,” Kruger remem­bers, and the next thing I know, he comes fly­ing through the air and jumps on me. We start wrestling and hors­ing around and we end up on the floor. Then his bud­dy flies into us and all three of us are just like a wad of laughter.”

In the mid­dle of their play, Kruger felt the Lord prompt­ing him to pay atten­tion. He real­ized he’d nev­er met his son’s friend before. I rewound the sto­ry and thought about what would have hap­pened if this lit­tle boy would have walked into my den alone.… Would he fly through the air and engage me in play? … Of course not. That is the last thing that would have happened.”

With­in him­self,” Kruger con­tin­ues, that lit­tle boy had no free­dom to have a rela­tion­ship with me. We were strangers.… The mir­a­cle that hap­pened was that my son’s knowl­edge of my accep­tance and delight, and my son’s free­dom for fel­low­ship with me, rubbed off onto that oth­er lit­tle boy.… He par­tic­i­pat­ed in my son’s life and com­mu­nion with me.”

When Jesus invites us to call his Father our Father, he is offer­ing us inti­mate par­tic­i­pa­tion in the life of the Trinity. 

Com­mu­ni­ty

In the invo­ca­tion, Jesus teach­es that our con­nec­tion to God is very per­son­al, yet it is also not pri­vate. The address, after all, is not My Father, but Our Father. And all the per­son­al pro­nouns that fol­low in the prayer are plural.

From the first word of the prayer for­ward, Jesus invites us to begin to under­stand our sto­ry with­in the con­text of a much big­ger sto­ry. To pray this prayer is to find our indi­vid­ual lives sit­u­at­ed with­in the body of Christ, with­in human­i­ty, and with­in all of creation.

Voca­tion

There is a third, rather cos­mic dimen­sion of the invo­ca­tion that is easy to over­look unless we receive Jesus’ teach­ing in the con­text of Israel’s back­sto­ry. N. T. Wright points out that the first occur­rence of the idea of God as Father” comes dur­ing the dra­mat­ic scene, cap­tured in Exo­dus 4, when Moses thun­ders to Pharaoh on the Lord’s behalf: Thus says the Lord: Israel is my first­born son.… Let my son go that he may wor­ship me” (Exo­dus 4:22 – 23).

From that icon­ic con­fronta­tion for­ward, to refer to God as Father” is asso­ci­at­ed in the Jew­ish mind with the promise of lib­er­a­tion — free­dom from slav­ery and oppres­sion. By the time King David comes along, God is explain­ing that even­tu­al­ly there will be a new king, a Mes­si­ah, descend­ed from David’s fam­i­ly — and the God-as-Father motif con­tin­ues. I will be a father to him,” he says of the promised Mes­si­ah, and he shall be a son to me” (2 Samuel 7:14).

When Jesus arrives on the scene, Israel has been wait­ing for this Davidic Mes­si­ah, the hope of Israel, for a very long time. They’ve suf­fered under the oppres­sion of one régime after anoth­er, long­ing for the day when their Lord, Yah­weh, will enact a new exo­dus and final­ly set his peo­ple free. When Jesus starts refer­ring to God as his Father,” it’s a sig­nal, loud and clear, that he is claim­ing to be the long-await­ed emancipator.

And then, do you see what he does? It would be one thing if he taught his fol­low­ers to pray to his Father. But instead, he teach­es us to pray to our Father — which is to include our­selves in the mission. 

Right here, in the invo­ca­tion, Jesus is invit­ing all who will pray this prayer to self-iden­ti­fy as par­tic­i­pants in the Father’s great project of set­ting every cap­tive free and over­com­ing evil with good in every cor­ner of the uni­verse. To pray to our Father” is to find our life’s ulti­mate voca­tion. It is to sign up for the revolution. 

And our par­tic­i­pa­tion in this rev­o­lu­tion means that we are invit­ed to embody God’s king­dom every­where we go — at home, at work, at church, shop­ping for gro­ceries, post­ing on social media, inter­act­ing with our neigh­bors. We’re invit­ed to live aware and expec­tant — grow­ing in our capac­i­ty to detect all the sub­tle and overt ways the peo­ple around us expe­ri­ence oppres­sion, and learn­ing to pray and act for their liberation.

When I look back on my church upbring­ing, I’m grate­ful there was a strong empha­sis on the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a per­son­al, inti­mate rela­tion­ship with God. But I must con­fess that I some­how missed the com­mu­nal, cos­mic, rev­o­lu­tion­ary side of the beau­ti­ful coin Jesus offers us.

Spir­i­tu­al depth and renew­al come, as and when they come, as part of the larg­er pack­age,” observes N. T. Wright. But that pack­age itself is about being deliv­ered from evil; about God’s king­dom com­ing on earth as it is in heaven.”

Whom are we address­ing? Our Father

Where is his address? In heav­en

Where is OUR address? Inti­mate­ly cen­tered in the life of the Trin­i­ty, com­mu­nal­ly sit­u­at­ed with­in the body of Christ and all of cre­ation, and thrilling­ly placed on the front­lines of the revolution.

Sug­gest­ed song: Who You Are



Tak­en from The Uni­verse in 57 Words by Car­olyn Arends. Copy­right © 2021 Car­olyn Arends. Pub­lished by Ren­o­varé and avail­able on ren​o​vare​.org.

Christ Speak­ing to the Dis­ci­ples, from The Sto­ry of Christ, print, Georg Pencz (MET, 1986.1180.116) via Wiki­me­dia Commons.

Text First Published May 2021 · Last Featured on Renovare.org April 2022

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