"On the Path"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
Like most children who grew up in a Christian household, one of the very first prayers I ever learned was "The Lord's Prayer," - "Our Father."
Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Over the years I probably recited this prayer over a million times - sitting alone in a church, at various services and public gatherings, driving in my car or taking a walk. This "Lord's Prayer" was just part of my DNA. Interestingly enough it wasn't until just yesterday that I came to understand just how subversive and even dangerous it is to recite this simple and apparently tranquil, calming prayer that I had first learned as a child.
In her new book, Short Stories by Jesus: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi, Professor of Jewish studies and New Testament scholar, Amy-Jill Levine, offers this insightful commentary on those all too-familiar words of The "Our Father" prayer:
I do wonder, do all those who pray 'your kingdom come, your will be done,' really want a change of the status quo or are they pretty satisfied with the 'kingdom' we have here and now? Do they really want the time, as Jesus promises, when the first will be last and the last first, when we are assessed on how well we have loved our enemy and fed the hungry?
It's so interesting that after all these years of mindlessly reciting the "Lord's Prayer," I would be taught something of its real meaning by a scholarly Jewish rabbi.
There is no doubt about it, Jesus was a revolutionary. In the eyes of the State he was a subversive radical who preached a dangerous message about living in the "Kingdom of God." His message turned the cultural norms of his day upside down. He boldly stood against any system that allowed the powerful to crush the weak, teaching that every human being has equal dignity, no one deserves more than anyone else, no hierarchy, no patriarchy, no class systems.
He told those who would dare to follow him that they were to continue his subversive mission, to do their part in bringing about this "Kingdom of God" on earth - to be voices for justice and living signs of compassion, always welcoming in those who had been cast away. In essence Jesus invited all who would follow in his path to be radical, subversive revolutionaries just like he was.
It didn't take long for the revolution to get tamed by the dominant culture, for the teeth to be taken out of the tiger, as the revolution gradually turned into a church. In some sense the institutional church over the years has become much of what Jesus stood boldly against, so that now people like me can blandly mouth the words "Thy kingdom come" and have almost no clue of just how radically subversive those words really are.
I actually believe any spiritual path is subversive and revolutionary. It always points in the direction of justice and compassion - the opposite direction of the comfortable status quo.
A question is asked of potential Christians as they are baptized. The question lies at the core of what it means to walk in the "way" of Jesus:
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people
and respect the dignity of every human being?
It seems to me that you don't have to be a Christian to answer "yes" to that question, nor do you have to be a Christian to proclaim:
Thy kingdom come!
Long live the revolution!