Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Our Father.”
Not my Father… but our Father. Not give me today my daily bread… but give us today our daily bread. Not forgive me my sins… but forgive us our sins.
It’s interesting that the word “our” is actually the second word in the Greek text (not to mention Latin and Spanish). So it actually reads: “Father ours.”
Why did Jesus teach us to pray in the plural?
The Father has many children in His family
Praying in the plural broadens our perspective that we do not pray alone. We pray in concert with the whole body of Christ.
Cyprian, the Bishop of Carthage, said:
Prayer with us is public and common; and when we pray we do not pray for one but for the whole people, because we the whole people are one.
Our relationship with God may be personal, but it is not private
Twenty first century Protestant Americans are individualistic in every area of our lives, including our religion. We are über-individualistic!
We are products of our culture, and so even as followers of Jesus, we can fall into the trap of thinking of my spirituality and my prayer as a private matter involving nobody but myself and God. But that’s not the Jesus way!
Will Willimon and Stanley Hauerwas write in their book on the Lord’s Prayer:
Those who speak of having ‘a personal relationship with Christ,’ are right, it is personal. But it is not private. We are all in this together. There may be religions that come to you through quiet walks in the woods, or by sitting quietly in the library with a book, or rummaging around in the recesses of your psyche. Christianity is not one of them. Christianity is inherently communal, a matter of life in the Body, the church. Jesus did not call isolated individuals to follow him. He called a group of disciples. Every time you say, ‘Our Father,’ you are naming the way we are saved — as a group, praying together, correcting one another, forgiving one another, stumbling along after Jesus together, memorizing the moves until his way has become our way. Our way.
“Our Father” may be personal… but it is not private.
Our faith is communal because we’re all in a family with the same Father.
This became real to me a few years ago. I was feeling very frustrated with someone about a bad decision they had made. My first inclination was to just stew about it and enjoy being upset at them for a while.
But something happened.
I happened to glance at some family photos on the wall and there they were. Right there in my family picture was the person I was upset with! They were smiling, laughing, and hanging out with my kids.
And then it hit me. He is my brother. We’re in the same family, because we have the same Father.
Lord, help us to pray in the plural.