Some time ago, when I was a classroom teacher, I had a strange and surprising encounter with one of my students’ fathers. It was on back-to-school night about a month after school had begun. I was surprised that the tallest boy in my class had a father who was a “little person.”
As I stood to greet him, he dragged over a folding chair, placed it in front of me, jumped on top of it, looked me in the eye and announced, “I want to shake the hand of the woman who gave birth to my son’s passion for learning. He always hated school, but now, because of you, he loves it!” He went on to explain that I was truly his son’s spiritual mother. Because of this, he was indebted to me because it opened a future for his son that he never anticipated. I should now consider myself part of his family, and, since he was older than I was at the time, I should address him as “Dad.”
I could not help think of this story as we focus on the “Our Father” in the Lord’s Prayer. These two words should make us pause and reflect. Let me explain.
By beginning this prayer with the word “Our,” Jesus honed in on a theological concept that, I believe, most of us pass by as we begin to pray this prayer. This word focuses on the covenantal aspect of our relationship with God and one another. This covenant created a people that is “specially His own.” (Det. 14:2) We become God’s adoptive children. Since God is truly OUR Father and we are His sons and daughters, our relationship with others must extend though all races, cultures, classes, political parties, faiths, or any other difference for that matter. Another person, no matter how wealthy or poor, or, whether living a moral or immoral lifestyle, is always my brother or sister because I am God’s daughter (or son). In a sense, when we pray this prayer, we deepen the reality that we are called into relationship within a family, a global family. We can find this concept in both the New and Old Testaments. “Today the Lord has obtained your agreement: to be his treasured people, as he promised you, and to keep his commandments;” (Det. 26:18) and “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9) Because we are called into this family, our worship of God is communal. In short, it celebrates God’s love within His family; as a family and around a table.
By using the word “Father,” or better translated from the Aramaic, “Daddy,” Jesus teaches us of God’s affection and tenderness, intimacy and respect. The concept of an all-powerful God, Creator of the universe and the Law that is tender and affectionate was truly revolutionary at the time of Jesus. In fact, only through Jesus’ divine revelation can we fathom this truth.
Recently, I had a conversation with a young woman about her concept of God. She told me that when she prayed, she pictured an opening into Heaven through which her prayers ascended and God’s grace descended. God was too busy to be involved with her daily routine, her concerns and the trivial happenings of her life, she said. When I asked her if she believed that God loved her, she responded, “Yes, after all He is God, right?” I pressed, “Do you believe that He loves YOU? That He sent His son to be born of a woman, suffer and die for YOU? That He hungers for a relationship with YOU? That no matter what wrong you have done, can do, or will do, His love never changes?” She responded, “Sure, He’s God.”
It became obvious that this woman’s understanding of a personal, intimate relationship with God was non-existing. She held God as a being that lived “up there” in Heaven rather than someone who enters into the “mud” of life and pushes us out of the “yucky-ness” of our sin so we can experience His glory.
The conversation with her caused me to pause and reflect. So many individuals in our society do not have an understanding of who a “daddy” should be. In Jesus’ culture, a father was a nourisher, protector, or upholder. He was the head of the family. Through him, the family was established. His sacred duty was to work and to protect. His work provided food, shelter and a safe environment. Once established, his sacred duty was to maintain what was already established by his protection.
Yes, I know, this definition is not necessarily warm and fuzzy, but it does give us a framework into the meaning of fatherhood.
It seems to me that we too need to climb on a chair and view fatherhood at a different perspective and we’ll do so in my next article!
By Sister Geralyn Schmidt, SCC, Special to The Witness