In this series, I’m discussing The Lord’s Prayer, and why I believe that it is one of Jesus’ most radical and challenging ideas. It is meant to be descriptive of how to pray, not prescriptive on what to pray. In part 2, we’re looking at Jesus’ name for God, what it means, and why it would have been controversial in his culture.
The very first word of The Lord’s Prayer would have been considered shocking in 1st century Palestine.
When the disciples asked Jesus to describe how to pray, Jesus said, “When you pray, say…”
Jesus used the word Abba, an Aramaic word meaning “Father” or some would argue, “Daddy.”
In doing so, he was saying first that we depend on God. This was in stark contrast to conventional wisdom of his time which taught dependence upon nation, family, temple and financial security.
Secondly, Jesus was making a point about religious perspective. Everyone around him knew that Yahweh, not Abba, was God’s sacred name. It was a name suitable for a mighty, severe, distant God in heaven – a god that was so distant and so powerful, Jews were not even allowed to say “Yahweh” out loud.
Jesus chose to use Abba because he chose to assert that, no matter what appearances may indicate, all humans are valued by God in the same way that parents value their children.
Through the use of metaphor, by addressing God as “daddy,” he taught that God loves us; and, that we are to address God in terms of the love of family. At the same time, particularly in the age of Jesus, Father WAS a term of authority – love AND authority, all at the same time.
Today we see this duality of love and authority in fathers, mothers, step-parents, grandparents, guardians and many other close relationships.
So, from the very first word of The Lord’s prayer, Jesus was saying, “challenge contemporary conventions.”
He wanted his followers to understand that God is not so distant his name can’t even be uttered; and also that their connection to God could be described in the most personal of authoritative relationships – “daddy.”
How do we translate that challenge to modern conventions, the new insight into God, into today’s world?
We can recognize, God is too big to be contained by such a small human concept as “Abba” and yet loves us in a way that only those closest to us can.
So, in following with Jesus’ radical teaching about the nature of God, I humbly offer this suggestion:
When you pray say, “Holy Creator, giver and sustainer of life, the one that we love. The one who loved us first.”
When you pray, say…“Thy Kingdom come.”