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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - What Is the Lord's Prayer About?

Robert Barron - What Is the Lord's Prayer About?

Robert Barron - What Is the Lord's Prayer About?
TOPICS: Lord's Prayer

Peace be with you. Friends, our Gospel for today is St. Luke's version of the Lord's Prayer, the Our Father, this prayer that's recited probably, I don't know, millions of times a day, all over the world, at every Mass. If you're praying the Liturgy of the Hours, you pray it three times a day. Think of all the people who would recite these words. They're some of the best-known words on the planet. It might be good for us, therefore, to walk slowly through Luke's version of it to see what this great prayer is about, what we're asking for when we pray the Lord's Prayer.

Here's the first idea. First, I think, important observation: It comes from Jesus' own life of prayer. So he's been praying, and the disciples notice that. And they say, "Lord, teach us how to pray". Think of a great basketball player, a great guitarist, and people watch and say, "Oh, teach me how to do that". They must have noticed how intense his life of prayer was. And so they say, "Lord, help us to pray the way you do". So this prayer, think about this when you pray the Our Father, it reflects Jesus' own prayer, his own life of prayer. "When you pray," he says, "say: Father, hallowed be your name". Father.

Let's pause right there. I mean, God could be addressed as Lord, Master, all powerful, etc.; all of those are true designations. But we're invited to call him Father. It's suggested by some scholars that behind that is the diminutive, the Hebrew "Abba," more like daddy. Jesus is uniquely the Son of the Father. He has that unique relationship with him. How wonderful that as we pray this prayer he taught us, we're invited to share in that intimacy. Now we're not the sons and daughters of God the way he's the Son of God. But yet he's giving us the privilege to enter into that kind of intimacy with God.

Don't brush over that word when you start the Our Father, that you're able to say "Our Father" in addressing the creator of the universe, in addressing the infinite source of existence itself. We're able to say Father because we share in Christ's own intimacy. First thing we ask him: "hallowed be thy name". Now, may your name be held holy. It's not as though our prayer is making his name holy. We're not praying for that, as though we have the power to do that. I mean, God's name is always holy. What we're asking for is that we always hallow the name of God.

Now to hallow, to hold as holy, that means as "set apart". May we always consider God a value so supreme that every other value by comparison simply falls away. I'm interested in all sorts of things. I value all kinds of things. I value my job. I value money. I value my family. I value my country, etc., etc. And if I say, "Well among these many values, I also value God," then his name is not being hallowed. It's not being held holy. "Hear, O Israel, the Lord your God is Lord alone", the "shema" (Deuteronomy 6), this fundamental prayer of ancient Judaism. Not one value among many, not just the highest value among many, but "You are Lord alone. You alone are the center of my life. No value is even in competition with you".

And see, as I've said many times to you before, when we get this right, we get everything else right. When God's name is held holy, as hallowed, well then all the rest of my interests and all the other values find their place around that central value. That's why that's the first thing we ask the Father. "May we hold your name, your presence, as hallowed, as holy". What's next? "May your kingdom come". Well, that's the heart of Jesus' preaching. When he first appears in the hills of Galilee, what's on his lips is the message of the kingdom. "The kingdom of God is at hand, so repent and believe the good news". The kingdom, the kingdom. What is it? I always follow Origen here, the great Church Father. He said Jesus is "autobasileia". That means he's the "kingdom in person".

See, the kingdom of God means God's reign, God's way of ordering things. Because for centuries Israel longed for this, that the God who made the world, who created the human race and wanted us to be his priests and his prophets and his followers, that world has fallen into sinful disarray, and no earthly ruler could set it right. And so Israel begged, "Lord come. How long, oh Lord? When will you come to set things right"?

Well, that's God's kingdom, God's reign. How has it happened? It's happened in him, in Jesus. He's the "autobasileia," the kingdom in person. He himself is the coming together of divinity and humanity. He himself is God's justice and peace reigning on the earth. And so when we say, "May your kingdom come," we're saying, "May we be drawn more and more completely into the power of Jesus. May this reign embodied in him become normative for me". An extraordinary thing when you think about it. That's what we're asking for every time we say, "Thy kingdom come". Then this, and it's mysterious. "Give us each day our daily bread".

Now that sounds rather ordinary, but why do I say mysterious? Well, the Greek behind this phrase is very strange. "Epiousion" is the Greek. It means literally, give us the "supersubstantial" bread. "Ousia" means substance, "epi" is like on top of, or more of. "Give us the supersubstantial bread". It's very interesting, you look in the old Vulgate, the ancient Latin rendering of the New Testament, and you'll find St. Jerome translates this as "panem supersubstantialem," supersubstantial bread, not daily bread.

Now I won't bore you with the details of how we got to "daily," and there's a way the scholars understand that, but I want to stay with this peculiar expression at the heart of the Lord's Prayer. "Give us each day our supersubstantial bread". Are we praying just for ordinary sustenance? No, it seems to me. That would be ordinary bread. "Lord, help us to have enough to live on". Okay. Okay. But we're not asking for that. We're asking for the "panem supersubstantialem," the supersubstantial bread. Catholics begin to hear an overtone, don't we? What's the Eucharist? Not ordinary bread, but bread that has been transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Christ, no longer ordinary bread but now the Body and Blood of Christ under the appearances of bread and wine. The supersubstantial bread for which we pray every time we pray the Lord's Prayer is precisely Christ in his Eucharistic form.

See, we pray that his kingdom might come, his reign, yes. And we want to be fed, because we're not just following a guru or a leader. We want to be drawn into him. How's that happen? Through the supersubstantial bread that we pray for every time we pray this prayer. Then, "Forgive us our sins". Oh, it's extraordinary everybody, isn't it? I mean, Jesus, great teacher, of course. Prince of Peace, of course. The one who's established this new way of life. Yes, all that's true. But I think you could argue the most important thing that Jesus does is he forgives our sins. "Go and sin no more," to the woman caught in adultery. "Pick up your mat and walk. Your sins have been forgiven". "Neither do I condemn you".

The forgiveness of sins is at the very heart of what Jesus is about. Now why? Why? Well, C.S. Lewis saw this. At the limit, if you've offended me, I could forgive you. I could say, "Look, I'm not going to hold that against you. I forgive you". But if I were to walk up to you and say, "I forgive all your sins," I mean, you'd think I was out of my mind and you'd be right, because I have no business forgiving all of your sins. Who's the only one who could reasonably do that or say that? Who could say, "My son, your sins are forgiven you"? Who could say that? No ordinary human being, but only, as Lewis saw, the one who is indeed offended in every sin.

Yeah, if I'm offended by you, I could in principle forgive you, but I can't forgive you for all your sins. But God, who is offended in every sin, can say to us, "My son, my daughter, your sins are forgiven". See, this is how we're drawn into the kingdom of God, this is how we're drawn into the power of Jesus, he forgives our sins. And so in this great prayer, that's what we're asking for. "Lord, please forgive our sins. Do that which you alone as the Son of God can do". And then right away the implication, the next thing we ask for: "As we forgive those who trespass against us". It's been said, I remember a grade school teacher of mine, a sister, long, long ago, reminding us that every time we pray this prayer, this challenge is right in our face. "Lord, please forgive me for my sins". Yes, yes, and this incomparable grace comes of the forgiveness of my sins.

Well, now I've got to be about the business of forgiving those who've offended me. Otherwise, I've not imbibed the forgiveness of Christ. I've just put it on like a garment that I can take off. If I've really taken it on, I've imbibed it, it's become part of my life, well then I become a Christ to others. Think of someone who has trespassed against you, right now. I mean, specifically. What you're praying for is the grace now to forgive that person as you've been forgiven. It's one of the most challenging elements in the whole spiritual life, I think. And then one last detail as Luke tells us: "Do not subject us to the final test".

Now to understand this, we have to go back to the first century. There was a presupposition that before the Messiah came there'd be a period of testing and of trial. Some of the apocalyptic language in the New Testament reflects this idea, that before the Messiah comes to set things right, there'll be a terrible time of trial. Now here's, I think, how we understand this. Yes, when Jesus comes into our dysfunctional world, that's what the kingdom means, and we're praying for it: "May your kingdom come, your will be done. Give us the supersubstantial bread. Come into this dysfunctional world of ours", what will happen is the dysfunctional world is going to rise up in resistance.

Now I can see that in the grand scale, but I can feel it in my own life. Fellow sinners, you can do that too. As Christ comes into my life, I start resisting. "I don't want that. I don't want him to be Lord in my life. I don't want to change". I'm like the Israelites in the desert. "I mean, take me back to the flesh pots of Egypt. I don't like this new spiritual liberty". So expect it. That's the point here. Every time we pray the Our Father, we're expecting a resistance to Christ. "Lead us not into temptation," in other versions of this. Expect it. Don't be shocked, don't be surprised when a resistance to Christ rises up in you. That's the old sinful self.

And so the last thing we ask for is, "Lord, do not subject us to the final test. Lead us not into temptation. Lord, protect me from my resistant self". There's so much more we could say. Read so many of the spiritual masters as they talk about the Lord's Prayer. But every step of it is opening up a window and a door to the spiritual life. Next time you pray it, whether it's the liturgy or just privately, I'd invite you to do it very slowly. As you do, meditate on each of these phrases. You'll find the whole spiritual life is displayed before you. And God bless you.
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