The Universality of the Lord's Prayer
October 6, 2021
The most popular prayer that human societies have ever uttered during the past twenty centuries is undoubtedly the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, ‘Our Father’, which is otherwise called ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.
Anyone going to the holy land will get to visit the Church of Pater Noster (Our Father), the place where Jesus is believed to have taught this beautiful prayer. One thing that strikes our minds when we are at this place is the common heritage, communion and fellowship that is expressed by people who reach here. It is manifest when they join hands, look up to the skies and recite this prayer in their own language. There is an inexplicable feeling of belonging to one single family where God is the father of us all, and all of us are brothers and sisters.
Luke 11:1 tells us that Jesus taught this prayer in response to a request by one of his disciples who wanted to learn to pray: “Lord, teach us to pray...” What an amazing request to make! It should worry us today if our children do not ask us to teach them to pray. We might be imparting them all the skills such as fishing, swimming, boating, trekking etc. But do we teach our young ones to pray? If those who are under our care have declined from asking us to teach them to pray, it may be because we have not come across to them as praying persons. So, the introspection that each of us should make today will ultimately lead us to a question, ‘Am I an individual who draws strength from my prayer’?
The Lord’s Prayer is a very simple prayer and yet it is the most universal in its characteristics. It is the most perfect prayer ever said by humans precisely because it was taught by a man who is in complete union with his heavenly father. All human prayers have two spheres: First, giving glory and praise to God in gratitude and second, expressing total dependence on that divine, merciful and bountiful power. These two spheres merge in the song of the angels sung at Jesus’ birth: “Glory to God in the highest; and peace to all people on earth.” The Lord’s prayer is nothing but an elaboration of this song of the angels.
The first three things said in this prayer are associated with the glory of God. The second three things are related to the peace that humans long for in their daily lives. The most touching phrase in this prayer is perhaps that God is addressed as “Our Father” instead of “my father”. No one can pray to God all by oneself. Even the most private prayer of ours is communitarian in its essence, that comes from an awareness that we belong to a family where God is understood as OUR Father. In fact, none of us has the right to call God ‘My Father’ since God is the creator and sustainer of the whole world, whole universe. God is the father and mother of the whole cosmos. I personally believe that all the problems of the world can be solved to a large extent, if only the humanity together can address God as ‘Our Father’. But it has implications which are very heavy and not so easy to bear.
The phrases, ‘hallowed be thy name’ and ‘thy kingdom come’ presuppose that it is the humans’ attitudes and behaviors that will sustain God’s name holy and make God’s kingdom established here on earth. “Let your light so shine before people, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). ‘Thy will be done’ presupposes that we continually search for that which we are commissioned to do in our daily lives.
What does it mean to say, ‘give us this day our daily bread’? It means, give us the basic amenities that we require to live our lives from day to day. We need basic securities, and not unlimited wealth. It could also mean, ‘give us our daily wisdom’ for we humans are not just our bodies but also our minds and souls.
The next thing that we ask God is to forgive us our trespasses. We are aware of our fragility and brokenness. Our past may not be very colorful. “The just man falls seven times a day” (Proverbs 24:16). We can ask for God’s forgiveness only if we are willing to forgive offenses done to us by others. Finally, when we are aware that our steps could waver, that our minds could wander, and our focus might whither, we ask our God to strengthen us to face temptations and stay always near us to save us from all evil.
So, asking for our daily bread (present), requesting God’s forgiveness for our (past) sins and seeking protection from all possible (future) harm, make this prayer so comprehensive and universal. What a beautiful prayer, that manifests the unity of all Christians and a total surrender to our God!
Rev. Dr. C. P. Varghese
St. Patrick’s Catholic Church