Pater Noster (Our Father)
I think that most Americans would agree that for the last several years, our country has grown increasingly divided. Sharp lines have been drawn in most areas of life leaving little room for nuanced opinions, middle ground or even civil discourse. As a result, a “we vs. them” narrative has emerged, which makes talking about certain topics uneasy at best and, at worst, a potential for public shaming. The pervasiveness of disunity plaguing our country reminds me of that invasive species of vine known as Kudzu. Like the Kudzu plant, this new form of divisiveness does not discriminate. It affects all spheres of life and slowly suffocates any attempt to find common ground.
That’s why I love the Lord’s Prayer.
In the opening words of the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus provides a tonic to the division we’ve witnessed. You are probably familiar with the beginning where Jesus prays, “Our Father,” in Matthew 6 (note: Latin liturgies call this the Pater Noster). When Jesus teaches us to pray “Our Father,” He is making some profound claims about the nature of humanity and of God.
Notice, firstly, that the prayer is a collective and communal prayer. It is not a prayer said alone and for ourselves. Jesus does not pray, “My Father.” Rather, Jesus presents us with a model of prayer that is meant to be said with others and for others. Christians, above all, are a people who are called to gather in unity, however diverse they might be. This is consistent with Ephesians 4, which says, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)
The second thing that we see in the opening line to the Lord’s Prayer is that our prayer is addressed to our “Father.” When we say that God is “Father,” we mean that He is the common Father to all of humanity (Genesis 1:26-27). Of course, for Christians, as ones who have been adopted into God’s family (Ephesians 1:5; Galatians 4:6), God’s fatherly nature takes on a deeper relational meaning. Yet more broadly, the idea stresses that God is the Father of all humanity. And if God is the Father of all of humanity, then our primary focus should be on what we have in common and to work to serve the common good. Of course, this is easier said than done. Sin does wreak havoc on even the best intentions. Yet as Christians, God has given us Spirit-empowered resources to help us, and one of those resources is prayer.
So, the next time you pray the Lord’s Prayer (and I hope that it is today!), remember that when you pray “Our Father,” you are praying to the God whose image is upon every person that you encounter—even those with whom you disagree.