Hallowed be thy name…
(Understanding God’s Identity)
Jesus establishes God as a heavenly father figure, but that’s not enough for most of us. Without a name, he seems lost in abstraction. Try as we might, we simply can’t bring him into view. There is only the vague presence of someone hovering around us—like the adult of a Charlie Brown Peanuts Special, always outside the frame, speaking in a strange indecipherable language. Jesus understands our predicament, but unlike Moses, who chiseled the Word to fit the hardness of our hearts,1 he isn’t going to bend the gospel around our weaknesses. He’ll allow for the idea that God has a name, but he isn’t about to tell us what it is.
Why the secrecy? Because Jesus understood that once God is given a name such as Yahweh or Elohim, it doesn’t take long before we start asking for special favors.2 Jesus, as we know, wanted to break the belief in a God that plays favorites. He wanted his followers to realize that in the Father’s eyes all races of people are equal: the gospel of Christ beating at the heart of all true religions. “He who is not against us are for us,”3 proclaimed the carpenter’s son. That includes Buddhists, Muslims, Taoists, Jews, and others. What we label ourselves isn’t important as long as we follow Christ’s gospel of love, charity, and good works—as long as we climb the mountain and live up to our potential as God’s children.
Our journey though is hard and steep—especially at the beginning—which is why when churches offer a shortcut to the kingdom of heaven we are quick to accept. It’s quite comforting to think that Jesus did all the legwork, and that we can just coast into heaven on the belief that he is our savior. Unfortunately, Jesus never made such a claim. In fact, he makes it quite clear that he expects us to do our own walking, carrying our own crosses.4 The obstacles we face on the way are our responsibility to remove because, more often than not, they are of are own making.
One obstacle to the kingdom is our habit of seeking God from without rather than within. In Old Testament days, this habit regularly took the form of idol worship. Today it is much the same, except we’ve replaced the golden calf with images of Jesus of Nazareth—fetishizing his likeness in our churches, art work, books, and car ornaments.
We’ve fallen into this trap because Jesus, while being cagey about God’s name, says that salvation is to be found through his own “name”.5 As usual, we have to be careful of taking Jesus’s reported words too literally. It is clear that he never wanted to be personally honored for the things he did.6 Throughout the Gospels he shuns the ego–trip, cherishing anonymity over fame.7 He even goes so far as to tell the disciples not to call him “good,”8 while urging secrecy from those whom he heals.9
When Jesus talks of Christ, God, or the kingdom of heaven, he always speaks in metaphors and parables,10 expecting us to seek the deeper meaning. When Jesus says that he is the pathway to the Father,11 he is not talking as Jesus of Nazareth but as the Christ child who lives in us all. He is calling each of us to turn our attention inward, to reconnect with that child through the power of the Holy Spirit.12 What he is not doing, is asking us to bow down and praise him, or go through life as spiritual automatons asking, “What would Jesus do?” If we are to kneel before anyone it is our neighbor, so as to wash their feet and honor them as sons and daughters of the Lord.13
This teaching has always been a pretty hard one to…
The Lord’s Prayer. To continue reading, click on page 2 at the bottom.
- “Moses,” they said, “permitted a man to ‘draw up in writing a notice of separation and divorce his wife.’” 5 “It was owing to the hardness of your hearts,” said Jesus, “that Moses gave you this direction; 6 But, at the beginning of the Creation, God ‘made them male and female.’” – Mark 10:4-6 [↩]
- Then the mother of Zebediah’s sons came to him with her sons, bowing to the ground, and begging a favor. 21 “What is it that you want?” he asked. “I want you to say,” she replied, “that in your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit, one on your right, and the other on your left.” – Matthew 20:20–21 [↩]
- Mark 9:40, Luke 9:50 [↩]
- If anyone wishes to walk in my steps, let them renounce self, take up their cross, and follow me. – Mark 8:34 [↩]
- And you will be hated by everyone on account of my name. Yet the one that endures to the end shall be saved.” – Matthew 10:22 [↩]
- Not that I am seeking honor for myself; there is one who is seeking my honor, and he decides. – John 8:50 [↩]
- “You are the Christ.” 30 On which Jesus charged them not to say this about him to anyone. – Mark 8:30 [↩]
- ““Why do you call me good?” answered Jesus. “No one is good but God. – Mark 10:18 [↩]
- Her parents were amazed, but Jesus impressed on them that they were not to tell anyone what had happened. – Luke 8:56 [↩]
- Of all this Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables; indeed to them he used never to speak at all except in parables. – Matthew 13:34 [↩]
- I am the door; you who go in through me will be safe, and you will go in and out and find pasture. – John 10:9 [↩]
- And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you always—the Spirit of Truth. – John 14:16 [↩]
- If I, then—‘the Master’ and ‘the Teacher’—have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet; 15 For I have given you an example, so that you may do just as I have done to you.” – John 13:14–15 [↩]
In our meditation on The Laughter of Christ, we talked about how Jesus must have had a great sense of humor. Finding examples of the Nazarene’s humor isn’t easy though when reading the Gospels. Some folks have pointed towards Jesus’s admonition that we shouldn’t worry about the speck in our brother’s eye when we have a beam in our own as one example. But that is a bit of a stretch.
All things considered, Jesus the humorist wasn’t likely a joke teller or smug connoisseur of witty epigrams. He undoubtedly was a satirist: the wielder of that eclectic humor which, to this day, continues to be the most effective way to speak truth to power and expose our petty egoism. Stephen Colbert proved this brilliantly in his now legendary take down of President Bush (and the journalists who cover him) at the annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
Satire is an insiders’ game. Many people don’t get it, while others think that the satirist is actually serious. It would have been the perfect kind of humor for a prophet like Jesus, who loved to teach in enigmatic parables and metaphors, and who wouldn’t reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven to just anyone.1 He also of course hated hypocrites,2 who are notoriously the subject of so much satire.
Jesus’s greatest bit of satire comes ironically (or perhaps not so ironically) in the episode we celebrate on Palm Sunday. Jesus we are told comes riding into Jerusalem on an ass, and afterwards, being hungry, gets angry at a fig tree for bearing no fruit, even though it is out of season.
Like those Republicans who think that Stephen Colbert really is a conservative Republican, many of the early Christians who passed down Jesus’s story simply didn’t get it. They interpreted it through their ordinary blinders of Old Testament prophecy, as well as the belief that prayer can literally move mountains or part the Red Sea.
Today, let’s go back and re-read Matthew Chapter 21 and imagine Stephen Colbert (or Mark Twain) riding the ass and berating the fig tree. Palm Sunday will take on a new, and perhaps richer, meaning.
Gain fresh insight into the Lord’s Prayer. Read our free online book The Lord’s Prayer for Daily Life. The prayer’s hidden teachings will enrich and inspire you. Click the following link to begin reading the Living Hour book now: The Lord’s Prayer.
- Afterwards his disciples came to him, and said: “Why do you speak to them in parables?” “To you,” answered Jesus, “the knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been given, but not to them. – Matthew 13:10-12 [↩]
- “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, hypocrites that you are! You pay tithes on mint, fennel, and caraway seed, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and good faith. These last you ought to have put into practice, without neglecting the first. You blind guides, to strain out a gnat and to swallow a camel! Woe to you, teachers of law and Pharisees, hypocrites that you are! – Luke 23:23-25 [↩]