Last week we examined, in light of the early Christian writings, what we might call the first part of the Lord’s Prayer. “Our Father, Who art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy Kingdom come. Thy Will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” The first part of the prayer is centered on God the Father and His will. We therefore say “Thy Name,” “Thy Kingdom,” “Thy Will.” This can be seen as a parallel with the Ten commandments, the first of which are about justice towards God, whereas the second “tablet” dealt with our justice towards one another.
In a similar way, the second half of the Lord’s Prayer reflects on our needs, as a community, from God. “Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. Amen.”
If we didn’t notice from the start the fact that we begin this prayer not with “My Father” but “Our Father,” it should become obvious here that the prayer Jesus taught us is one of community, and not primarily individualistic. In fact there is no “I” or “me” in the prayer at all.
We again turn to the fathers for wisdom and insight: “Before all things, the Teacher of peace and the Master of unity would not have prayer to be made singly and individually, as for one who prays to pray for himself alone. For we say not “My Father, which art in heaven,” nor “Give me this day my daily bread; “nor does each one ask that only his own debt should be forgiven him; nor does he request for himself alone that he may not be led into temptation, and delivered from evil. Our prayer is public and common; and when we pray, we pray not for one, but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one. The God of peace and the Teacher of concord, who taught unity, willed that one should thus pray for all, even as He Himself bore us all in one.” (Treatise of St. Cyprian on the Lord’s Prayer)
In fact, in Matthew’s Gospel, at the conclusion of the prayer, Jesus adds, almost as if to strengthen the bond of unity and charity taught here, “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences.” (Matt 6:14-15)
Much could be said of each petition in particular, of course, but here we must emphasize the point so often neglected in our individualistic society. We close our thoughts on the Lord’s Prayer with wise words of St. Augustine, given as part of his “Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount”; “And thanks be to the mercy of Him who requires this of us, that He should be our Father, a relationship which can be brought about by no expenditure of ours, but solely by God’s goodwill. Here also there is an admonition to the rich and to those of noble birth, so far as this world is concerned, that when they have become Christians they should not comport themselves proudly towards the poor and the low of birth; since together with them they call God “Our Father,” an expression which they cannot truly and piously use, unless they recognize that they themselves are brethren.”
We have touched upon Psalm 1 when reflecting on the Sermon on the Mount, as it is about reflecting on “The law of the Lord,” which is brought to fulfillment in Christ and explained in the Sermon. Next week, we will reflect on it as a short way to meditate on all that has been said thus far.