No other word in the English language speaks more to relationship that the word, ’our’.
Whether it is in terms of recognizing the resources of this earth are to be shared; that technological achievements are never accomplished solely by individuals in isolation; that improvements in the living conditions of people in impoverished regions are brought about by the actions of group effort.
The word, ‘our’ reflects the simple reality that we are social beings; that we do not exist on this planet only for our own benefit and gratification; that we are not to look after ourselves alone and let the rest of the human race ‘get by’ as best it can. Not only is this ‘unproductive’. It is actually quite ‘destructive.’
This lesson is not something new; it is really quite old; and it shows up sometimes in the most unexpected places.
Take for example, this week’s passage from St. Luke’s gospel, in which Jesus’ disciples ask Him to teach them ‘how to’ pray. This passage, like its parallel in St. Matthew, is the only instance in the Gospels where Jesus teaches a prayer ‘formula’ or ‘structure’ for a specific prayer. At first glance, He is simply giving them a formula prayer which has become known in most circles as ‘the Lord’s Prayer,’ or simply, ‘the Our Father.’
However, there is much more here than simply a formula for prayer. There is much that can be gleaned from each and every part of this prayer, but I would like to focus on what, if I may suggest, is the crucial point from which the entire prayer – and really the message of the Gospels- proceeds.
The beginning of this prayer is the vital point in all of it: Jesus starts with the word ‘Our’. He says ,”OUR Father”. We need to let that sink in a bit.
He doesn’t say, “My Father” or begin with a generalized or generic ‘Lord God’. He begins by addressing God with the term ‘Our Father’.
Using that turn of phrase, Jesus leads us to the understanding of an intimate relationship of us, the created beings, with God the creator as ‘Father’. This is not an image of some celestial being who simply ‘waves His hands’ and people spring up all over the place. This calls to mind a deeply involved, loving and close relationship between a father and child.
But in the use of this word, there is even more: God is ‘our’ Father. There is a relationship on the one hand between the Father and all of His children; and there is automatically (although not spoken) a relationship between all of the children as siblings. There is a truth and an expectation implied in this pairing of words; that all who call God ‘Father’ are in fact children of that same God, brothers and sisters; members of the same family – and as such, they are expected to act as brothers and sisters, members of the same family, children of the one true God.
Those two words, “Our Father’ really summarize the two greatest commandments, which as Jesus pointed out, are the key to salvation. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength,” and, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”
I cannot call God ‘my’ Father if I am not open to recognizing, loving and serving His ‘other’ children. I cannot serve His ‘other’ children if I do not first recognize them as ‘His’ children, and therefore my brothers and sisters. There is a permanence and unity built in the service of ‘family’ when we recognize ‘family’ – and that begins with recognizing that this ‘family’ begins with God the Father, and involves all of our ‘brothers and sisters’.
There is an even more profound point in this wording as well. It is Jesus Himself who says, “Our Father”. In using those words, not only is He –the second person of the Holy Trinity – calling on the Father, the first person of the Holy Trinity: He is also placing himself squarely in the middle of the human race, identifying Himself with all of us His own brothers and sisters. He, in His divinity, unites Himself completely with us in our humanity, so that we too can have some share in His divine life.
This sharing, this unity, this profound relationship with God and each other, is what we are all called to, and should be the hallmark of all Christians. Ours should not be an existence of ‘looking out for number one’ but should be recognized by its concern and care for each other centred on a deep and loving relationship with God. It is a lifestyle marked by a trust in the promise of an eternity in the embrace of the Creator of all.
This is ‘our’ inheritance from ‘our’ Father, to be shared with ‘our’ family – the human race – promised and given to all of us by ‘our’ brother, Jesus Christ.
Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!