The Son of God existed prior to Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. What we witness in the human form of Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation… All things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17). The Son of God had already lived forever, eternally, prior to taking on human life as Jesus.
The best sense the Church has been able to make of this comes from experience. There is One God, the Creator of everything, who, while remaining God, takes on human form: God the Son. This is Jesus, who grows up, ministers, prays, dies, is resurrected, and returns to the life of God, who has no beginning or ending. Jesus departs from earth. He ascends. He leaves us, not abandoned, but with another manifestation of the One God, whom Jesus calls “the Spirit,” another Person of the One God (John 14:26; 15:26). It took the Church several centuries to find the language to try to describe this mysterious yet undeniable experience: that there is One God in Three Persons.
God took on human form in Jesus. How did God make this decision? (I’m speaking here very anthropomorphically.) How did God decide to become human? What was the “cost” to God to become human? The great Welsh poet and Anglican priest, R. S. Thomas, in his poem “The Coming,” pictures God’s decision in a primordial conversation between God the Father and God the Son. The picture is of a desolated, hopeless, helpless earth:
And God held in his hand
A small globe. Look he said.
The son looked. Far off,
As through water, he saw
A scorched land of fierce
Colour. The light burned
There; crusted buildings
Cast their shadows: a bright
Serpent, a river
Uncoiled itself, radiant
On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many People
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.
God comes to us as a child of Bethlehem. We know him as Jesus, who grows up, like we grow up, and after many, many years, he finds his voice and claims his power.
He also prays. Jesus prays, enough so as to catch people’s attention. This is God the Son in a very human way praying to God the Father. Very mysterious, and yet, clearly, this is what was happening… frequently. Jesus prays.
Eventually, Jesus’ disciples ask him to teach them how to pray. Jesus responds with what we call “the Lord’s Prayer” (Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:2-4). Most revealing in the Lord’s Prayer is the opening word, the plural pronoun: “Our Father in heaven.” The Greek word translated “our” literally means “of us,” i.e., “Father of us.”
Consider the context: Jesus is speaking to his disciples, and Jesus’ prayer envelopes his disciples as if he and they are all one: the first person, plural possessive pronoun, “our.” How to pray? Jesus says we begin like this: Our Father… Jesus and we are one with the Father (John 10:30; 17:20-23).
Jesus here regards his disciples not as his servants, but as his friends. They are his peers. They share the same prayer. He doesn’t say, “My Father,” or “Your Father.” He says, “Our Father.”
The name Jesus uses for “Father” shows a very tender, childlike, trusting intimacy. A better, sweeter translation of the Greek word would be “Papa” rather than “Father.” “Our Papa in heaven.”
Jesus speaks as a human being, as human as you and I are, and as full of as many wonders and needs as the rest of us. His prayer is not just “heavenly”; his prayer includes our need for food – our “daily bread” – and this is not metaphorical. This is about sustenance.
Just prior to this – the verse preceding this prayer – Jesus has said, “Your Father already knows what you need before you ask him” (Matthew 6:8). So Jesus is teaching us to pray, but this is not about the dissemination of information to God. God already knows our needs because God is God. This prayer is about our trusted and tender relationship to God.
The Lord’s Prayer is so familiar, perhaps too familiar to some of us for us to be mindful of its profundity, revealed even just in these opening words. Jesus’ words completely embrace us, as if we, with Jesus, all belong to the same Father, the same Papa. I invite you to ponder and pray on the Lord’s Prayer as if you are hearing it again for the first time.
You might use it to reflect on God’s “deciding” to become human, and its “cost” to God to be both truly human and truly divine: the humility of God. Take R. S. Thomas’ haunting last line in his poem, “Let me go there.” Why? Why did Jesus come to us? Why does Jesus come to you? How might this prayer, which he taught us, help you to draw near, with him, to “Our Papa in heaven?”