by Mrs. Darwin
“And in praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do…” (Mt. 6:7)
We don’t have to question whether each word of the Our Father is worth studying, since in the moment before Jesus gave his disciples the model of prayer, he assured them that it wouldn’t contain any “empty phrases.” So even the word “who”, which most people rush through to get to the fun parts such as “hallowed” and “bread” and “evil”, illuminates God’s nature.
“Who” is a personal pronoun. The pronoun “which” might have implied that the Father is simply a vast cosmic force or an archetype or a remote ideal. But three words into the prayer, Jesus assures us that the Father is, primarily, a person. Unlike an archetype, the Father can and will respond, person to person, to us.
This is huge. It’s awesome, in the literal sense of that abused word. The Father is not only to be worshipped and reverenced and feared, but to be known and to know us in return, as a person. And as a person, He can’t simply be acknowledged (as an archetype) or propitiated (as a force) or studied (as an ideal). Now we have to respond back to His desire to have a relationship with us, which seems like a daunting burden in a world where even forming a good relationship with one’s earthly father can be a royal pain.*
Pope John Paul II offers an answer: “The person is a good towards which the only proper and adequate attitude is love.” This is doubly true of God, who is both a person worthy of love, and Love itself! It might seem a little recursive, maybe, to maintain that the One who is all Love needs our love, which comes from Him in the first place, but Jesus has that covered as well: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Luke 20:21) The only thing worthy of offering to God is Himself, and the only response to a person is love, and God is Love. This beautiful circle, in which we participate in the life of God by offering Himself to Him, is the perfect reciprocal personal relationship.
Finally, a note for the grammar fans: The Greek of the scriptures had no punctuation, and neither does the first phrase of the Our Father. Thus, the “who” can be both restrictive (the Father’s location is Heaven) and descriptive (of our fathers, we are addressing the one in Heaven, not on earth). The Latin (Pater noster qui es in caelis) and the Greek (Πάτερ ἡμῶν ὁ ἐν τοῖς οὐρανοῖς) both contain the same construction — according to my classics-major husband, so pick your linguistic bones with him, not me.
*Your father, not mine. My dad is the best ever.
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “Who”?
Mrs. Darwin is…well, she’s the type of woman who can write erudite comparisons of phraseology of various classical languages and knows how to make her keyboard do those crazy-looking Greek letters. She’s also a homeschooling mother of five. Her blog, that she writes along with her husband, was a big influence in my conversion to Catholicism.
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