17th Sunday in Ordinary Time; July 24, 2016
Gn 18:20-32; Ps 138:1-3,6-8; Col 2:12-14; Lk 11:1-13
Deacon Jim McFadden
Thirteen years ago I was facilitating a catechist class at Folsom Prison (Minimum Security), preparing some for Confirmation. One of the men, named ‘Juan’ was telling his story. He narrated that his biological father had abandoned his family when he was an infant and that his step-father was aloof and abusive. In so many words, he said that his connectedness to ‘father’ of any kind was “messed up.” He went on to say that may be the reason why he is drawn to his childhood faith–he is seeking his father.
I said, “Juan, God IS your Father and Jesus invites you to call him ‘Abba.’
“What does ‘Abba’ mean?” he asked.
“It means ‘Daddy.’ Jesus gives you permission to call God ‘Daddy’,” I said.
With tears welling in his eyes, Juan slowly and reverently recited the Our Father. He said it with such power and conviction that it seemed like he was saying it for the first time.
The simplicity of the Lord’s Prayer and our own familiarity with it can mask what a phenomenal breakthrough it was in the history of religion. Jesus doesn’t address God as ‘Judge,’ or ‘Omniscient One,’ or ‘Great Power in the Sky.’ Jesus doesn’t describe God as Father, but encourages us to address God as Father, as the one who is love and loves us.
That’s Christian theology in one word: GOD IS FATHER.
The emphasis, however, is not God as male, but God as a trustful and merciful caretaker. We know this because the characteristics Jesus ascribes to “Father” are qualities most people would describe as “feminine”—such as having mercy, compassion, pity, and forgiveness. Unfortunately, most people have come to see God only as masculine, which has promoted a patriarchal model of religion. Since the term ‘Father’ is drawn from human relationships, the word ‘Father’ may have some unhappy associations for some people. They may perceive God as a harsh judge, or God as a critical taskmaster, or God as an absent father, a missing-in-action deity.
If some experience their fathers as absent, judgmental, or harsh, then they may project these images upon the God that Jesus experienced. If they have grown to expect little of their fathers, then they will have the same expectations of God. In this case they may feel that God is useless in their ordinary life. If their father was generally non-communicative and had nothing much to say for himself, they will project that upon God. From this perspective God would seem to be uncommunicative and disinterested in an intimate relationship. Such a view would have implications for the expectations one would bring to prayer.
So, the revolutionary nature of the Lord’s Prayer challenges us to recognize the patterns of how we relate to God, to reflect upon them, let go of them if they are unhealthy, and to be open to God as Father, who
gives life, provides support, and has the tender qualities we most often associate with motherhood.
Such an understanding of God as loving parent can be found in the prophet Hosea, who captures this intimate Father-son, Father-daughter relationship that Jesus invites us to:
When Israel was a child, I loved him,
out of Egypt I called my son.
The more I called them,
the farther they went from me,
sacrificing to the Baals
and burning incense to idols.
Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk,
who took them in my arms;
I drew them with human cords,
With bands of love;
I fostered them like one
who raises an infant to his cheeks. (Hos 11:1-4).
The challenge that faces us is that we need to look at God as Hosea and Jesus did: namely, as ‘Abba,’ as a loving parent. Then we will experience God as Jesus did: we will be free to feel the pain of the world and to be who we truly are—namely, a beloved child of God.
Everything the Father is and has he gives to us through Christ: He gives us his very substance, his very life, which we ritualistically and intimately share in the Eucharist. We simply have to come before Abba as a child and say to God, “I know that you have life for me; I want you to be my Father; I want you to be our Father. Amen.