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'Say, Our Father'. Chapter Thirteen in The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers

'Say, Our Father.'

Chapter Thirteen in The Alabaster Jar by Theresia Saers

If recognition of the kingdom had become a fact, the result would have implied the acceptance of Jesus as a true prophet and henceforth his anointing would have been in order. However, nothing of the sort happens, though many of those who come to listen to his word claim that this Rabbi teaches as one that has authority. Once, in Nazareth in the early days of his appearance, the new Rabbi himself explains how this authority was granted him by the spirit of Yahweh himself.

‘The spirit of the Lord has been given to me,
for he has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring the good news to the poor,
to proclaim liberty to captives
and to the blind new sight,
to set the downtrodden free,
to proclaim the Lord’s year of favour…..
This text is being fulfilled today even as you listen.’

I wonder if the possibility for their Rabbi to be anointed by the authorities has ever occurred to the male disciples. Obviously it has to Mary. What the disciples do wonder about is how they will ever be able to live up to Jesus’ high standards and to accomplish what he demands of them as his apostles. They wonder what he draws his strength from. Would the clue lie in those hours when he withdraws into some quiet place and appears to pray? His kind of prayer is new to them. For one thing the disciples do not hear him mutter any words, his prayer is silent and intense. The prayer that they know mostly involves reciting texts, but Jesus’ lips do not move; instead he is silent and completely lost to what goes on around him. The disciples are fascinated and curious. One day they decide to beg him to teach them too.

‘Master’, they begin, ‘John has taught us to pray, but his prayer was different from yours. Please, teach us your way.’

I suspect Jesus has kept his silence for quite a long time. To speak about one’s own prayer is often to harm it. Yet the disciples’ request seems to give the Rabbi great satisfaction, so he considers what his reply can be. When we read the Bible it is so easy to think that all those things we find written down, just streamed from Jesus´ own lips and then off the feather point of an evangelist like the texts we now so easily quote in our books. We tend to forget the anxieties of the composer who had to weigh his words in order to get across to his readers some hard to grasp ideas and treasured experiences. How many people will have stood by or sat around the scribe when he was writing his final version? And even when we do realise that the words of the gospels have been composed with great care, we must not forget the ultimate source of the texts, long-dead Jesus of Nazareth, who never gave anybody an impression of just being an excellent ‘causeur’ at some trendy party. I for one have a feeling that the prayer we happen to call the ‘Our Father’ was not a clear-cut formula, hewn from the rock of Jesus’ faith, for us to recite in order to have a comfortable feeling that we ‘are praying as we should’. Just as I think that the Beatitudes did not reach us from our Master’s lips in one flowing stream of lessons, I guess that our best known prayer, the ‘Our Father’, too, was composed by the early Christians from all the little bits they remember. Jesus’ words, certainly, but spoken in different circumstances and timing than we are usually aware of.

So Jesus considers what to answer. He himself is conscious of the difference between traditional prayer and his own prayer. Between the one-way flow of words and the sea of love and trust that envelops and feeds him.

He remembers his own beginnings. How his parents have taught him his prayers according to Jewish Tradition. Respect for God was immense, and it had led his people to use paraphrases such as the Most High, the Eternal One, because Jews would avoid pronouncing his Name. Jesus has early experienced that there is one better name for God, which probably not many before him have ever dared to use. He invites his followers to call God their Father.

When you pray, say, Our Father.

The listeners could have heard a pin drop. Whoever would dare to do that? Call God your Father? You would not even dare address a priest that way. They are bewildered. This sounds like sacrilege. But already Jesus resumes. Yes, you are indeed free to say Father. God is your Father, your loving Father. It is the best way I know to call him by. He is not some distant Eternal Entity. In great and everlasting love he made you his children. Consider that all parenthood derives from him.

It must have been very quiet for a long time after Jesus had pronounced these words. However, there was more to come.

Say, Father, blessed be Thy Name, Thy kingdom come... As for you, my disciples, work and pray for that to happen. Mary and the others understand that this kind of prayer will entail great effort on their part. If they want to see his kingdom come they had better work hard to help bring it about. It seems self evident.

Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Heaven. So very, very often Jesus says that the kingdom of God is the same as the Kingdom of heaven. God’s kingdom established among men forever, no more evil, no disease, no more greed or poverty, no brutes, at long last a society where love prevails. Heaven. Nobody lost forever. When they passed on this term, something must have stuck in the collective memory of these disciples, preparing them to work towards the kingdom of God with all the strength they could muster.

Give us this day our daily bread…

Our Mary contemplates Jesus’ every word. Is it this prayer which gives him the patience to listen endlessly to those that seek him out for healing and advice? That works in him the power of healing? She hates the inquisition by priests and scribes, although she finds that Jesus is never worsted. She is sad when she sees his unrequited love, the way in which the official teachers of the Law show so much resentment, leaving her with a foreboding of great danger. Does the Master get his own daily bread, some spiritual food and strength in the hours of retreat, when he seems so far away from them, so totally lost in some other world?

Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us...

The disciples see no sin in Jesus, but are aware that he on his part is the first to forgive all the contempt and calumny he suffers from the officials of the Temple. As for them, it is a difficult lesson to accept. How they would have loved to use the power that they have been given to share with Jesus and call down heaven’s instant revenge on his enemies.

Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Whether or not the disciples are aware of the great temptations they will have to conquer we do not know; Jesus’ answer to Peter about the rewards and persecutions of those that follow him may or may not have preceded the lesson on prayer. My guess is that our Mary with the awkward surname the Magdalene and her history of dissension has more than just an inkling of what hard times are in store for all of them.

© Theresia Saers

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