Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
Readings: Isaiah 55:10-11 and Matthew 6:7-15
A fine book on ethical teaching in the New Testament bears the title of The Great Reversal. While God’s saving work always fulfills the deepest longings that our Creator has written on our hearts, that work often reverses our superficial, misguided, and short-sighted longings. As we embark on our season of Lenten self-examination, one exercise might be to use the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer as a checklist for recognizing how God continues to do so.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name ...
God would not seem to need our help to be holy, sanctified, set apart – “hallowed.” Yet whenever we live for ourselves, without regard for God’s purposes, we act as though we indeed were God. Simply to acknowledge God as our heavenly Parent and Source of transcendent purpose is to begin the process of Lenten self-examination and invite other reversals.
thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven ...
God’s saving work in history is finally not about Me; it is about Us in community reorienting our lives together according to God’s will. “Kingdom” is communal, political language. To be sure, the Reign of God for which we pray dare not be simply a projection of our tribal, economic, or nationalistic longings either. To pray this sentence truly is to invite God to reverse every longing that our will be done in heaven as on earth.
Give us this day our daily bread ...
The need for food, sustenance, or “bread” is so basic that nothing may seem challenging or unexpected here. But wait. Are we content with daily bread? Are we insisting on daily cake while others starve? Do we hoard the goods of the earth in such a way that we make it harder for God to answer the prayers of others when they too ask God for their daily bread?
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us ...
We all desire forgiveness. But we also want to be free riders who hold on to our resentments until “those other folks” ask our forgiveness first. No wonder a peaceful world seems out of our grasp. Someone must go first. And thankfully, in Jesus Christ, God has gone first, empowering and giving us the courage to do likewise. But now it is our turn to go next.
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Because God’s purposes are larger than us or our capacity to fathom, any of us may struggle at times with a sense that God is harsh or fickle. Lest our Lenten self-examination reinforce any such image of an unloving God, it is fitting that we end with a more comforting reversal. We are able to look our lives honestly in the mirror because the God who created us also suffers to restore us and empowers us to respond. Have we imagined otherwise? May God deliver us from that temptation too.
Dr. Gerald W. Schlabach is a professor of theology and former chair of the Justice and Peace Studies Department. A fuller version of this reflection is available on Dr. Schlabach’s website by clicking here.