The Our Father: Praising God and Praying For Ourselves

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The prayer Jesus gave us, the Our Father as recounted in Matthew 6:9-13 and in Luke 11:2-4, has typically been divided into salutations to God at the beginning and petitions from us to Him at the end.

The salutations include:

Our Father who art in heaven,                                                                              hallowed be Thy name,                                                                                      Thy kingdom come,                                                                                              Thy will be done,                                                                                                  on earth as it is in heaven (Mt 6:9,10).

Different Views of These “Salutations”

The salutations at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer are more than a simple “Dear God” at the beginning of a letter.  One view of these more-than-salutations words is that they are our requests that God do something:

a petition that God hallow his own name, i.e., that he manifest his glory by an act of power (cf Ez 36, 23), in this case, by the establishment of his kingdom in its fullness.” (Saint Joseph Edition of The New American Bible, Footnote 6,9, page 19; 1970).

This discussion goes on to say that such petitions regarding divine “kingdom” and “will” are prayers about divine purpose and pleas from us to God for divine, rather than human, action.

There are other interpretations of the actions requested by the “hallowed name,” “kingdom come,” and “will be done” parts of the prayer.

Hallowed Be Thy Name

Our praying for God’s name to be hallowed will have no effect on this. God’s name is, was and always will be holy. A millennium and a half ago or so, St. Augustine, in the 5th century A.D., noted that there is more going on here than a “Dear God” introduction:

Hallowed be thy Name.” Why dost thou ask, that God’s Name may be hallowed? It is holy. Why then askest thou for that which is already holy? And then when thou dost ask that His Name may be hallowed, dost thou not as it were pray to Him for Him, and not for thyself? No. Understand it aright, and it is for thine own self thou askest. For this thou askest, that what is always in itself holy, may be hallowed in thee. What is “be hallowed?” “Be accounted holy,” be not despised. So then you see, that the good thou dost wish, thou wishest for thine own self. For if thou despise the Name of God, for thyself it will be ill, and not for God.” (St. Augustine, Sermons on Selected Lessons On The New Testament, translated by R.G. MacMullen, ed. By P. Schaff, p. 275, Vol. 6, Nicene & Post- Nicene Fathers, 1888; emphasis added).

Thy Kingdom Come

St. Augustine makes the same point regarding us saying the words about God’s kingdom:

Thy kingdom come.” To whom do we speak? and will not God’s kingdom come, if we ask it not. For of that kingdom do we speak which will be after the end of the world. For God hath a kingdom always; neither is He ever without a kingdom, whom the whole creation serveth. But what kingdom then dost thou wish for? That of which it is written in the Gospel, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom which is prepared for you from the beginning of the world.”  Lo here is the kingdom whereof we say, “Thy kingdom come.” We pray that it may come in us; we pray that we may be found in it. For come it certainly will; but what will it profit thee, if it shall find thee at the left hand? Therefore, here again it is for thine own self that thou wishest well; for thyself thou prayest. This it is that thou dost long for; this desire in thy prayer, that thou mayest so live, that thou mayest have a part in the kingdom of God, which is to be given to all saints. Therefore when thou dost say, “Thy kingdom come,” thou dost pray for thyself, that thou mayest live well. Let us have part in Thy kingdom: let that come even to us, which is to come to Thy saints and righteous ones. (Id., pp. 275-276, emphasis added)

Thy Will Be Done

Similarly, St. Augustine tells us that no matter what we pray for, we cannot change God’s will; and that these words are about a change in us, not in God:

Thy will be done.” What! if thou say not this, will not God do His will? Remember what thou hast repeated in the Creed, “I believe in God the Father Almighty.” If He be Almighty, why prayest thou that His will may be done? What is this then, “Thy will be done”? May it be done in me, that I may not resist Thy will. Therefore here again it is for thyself thou prayest, and not for God. For the will of God will be done in thee, though it be not done by thee. For both in them to whom He shall say, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, receive the kingdom prepared for you from the beginning of the world;” shall the will of God be done, that the saints and righteous may receive the kingdom; and in them to whom He shall say, “Depart ye into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” shall the will of God be done, that the wicked may be condemned to everlasting fire. That His will may be done by thee is another thing. It is not then without a cause, but that it may be well with thee, that thou dost pray that His will may be done in thee. But whether it be well or ill with thee, it will still be done in thee: but O that it may be done by thee also.  . . .

Other Church Fathers – St. John Chrystostom

Several church fathers have also viewed the salutations of the Lord’s Prayer as more than a simple beginning address to God. St. John Chrysostom (died 407 A.D.) taught that the beginning words of the Lord’s Prayer urged us to act so as to glorify God:

Hallowed be Your name. . . . For hallowed is glorified. For His own glory He has complete, and ever continuing the same, but He commands him who prays to seek that He may be glorified also by our life. Which very thing He had said before likewise, Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. Matthew 5:16. Yea, and the seraphim too, giving glory, said on this wise, Holy, holy, holy. So that hallowed means this, viz. glorified. That is, vouchsafe, says he, that we may live so purely, that through us all may glorify You. (St. John Chrysostom, Sermons on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, translated by G.P. Prevost, ed. By P. Schaff, p. 134, Vol. 10, Nicene & Post- Nicene Fathers, 1888; emphasis added).

Conclusion

Jesus knew what he was doing in giving us this prayer. He knew that in telling us to address the Father in this way He was telling us to act accordingly. He was putting into the words of His prayer an implicit reference to our own personal role in bringing the Father’s kingdom to be and in seeing that the Father’s will is done.

Each of us trying to do what the salutations ask can have be a good example to everyone else. St. John Chrysostom describes the exemplary effect of each of us trying to “hallow” God’s name by what we do;

Which thing again appertains unto perfect self-control, to present to all a life so irreprehensible, that every one of the beholders may offer to the Lord the praise due to Him for this.  (Id.)

So, the salutations at the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer are both addresses to God our Father and prayerful requests that He help us, here and now,  to hallow His name here on earth, bring His kingdom into being, and do His will. Jesus is asking us to pray that we can do what He did while He was here with us on earth.

 

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