How Luke’s ‘Our Father’ challenges patriarchal society

By Glen Argan

It is a common today for people to say they are unable to pray to God as Father. Perhaps such people have suffered through a childhood dominated by an overly strict, even abusive father. Or perhaps they see the identity of God and Father as but another feature of a patriarchal society.

Some may brush aside such concerns, but St. Luke, at least in my reading of his Gospel, does not. He sees the patriarchal family structure, not as the will of God, but as a problem Christians need to overcome. Human fathers, rather than imposing their will upon their families, should be models of care and concern.

Luke’s understanding can be seen in Sunday’s Gospel which lays out Jesus’ teaching on prayer, beginning with the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father. Luke’s presentation of this prayer is briefer than that found in Matthew’s Gospel, and it is Matthew’s rendition which has become established in the liturgy and in people’s personal prayer.

However, Luke’s version of the prayer is not so much shorter as written from a different perspective.

Two petitions from Matthew’s prayer are missing: 1) the description “who are in heaven”; 2) “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” By these omissions, Luke has given a different picture of God than one who is distant and unreachable, and as an authoritarian figure whose implacable will must be done.

This God is not a biological father or even primarily the creator. The Father calls us to be part of his coming kingdom, provides daily sustenance for this community, mercifully frees us from the bondage of sin and leads us away from doing evil.

This is not the paterfamilias of the Roman family. Rather, Luke stresses the Divine Father’s compassion for his children, qualities human fathers should emulate.

Luke has a dim view of human fathers. Sunday’s Gospel concludes with Jesus stating that even human fathers will not be so cruel as to give their child a snake when they ask for a fish or a scorpion when they ask for an egg. But still, human fathers are evil compared with the heavenly Father who gives his children the Holy Spirit.

Further, Luke portrays historically distant “fathers” – ancestors –as men who disparaged and murdered the prophets. Such a characterization would not sit well in a Jewish society where the ancestors were respected men who brought the law of Moses down to the present time.

A central element in John the Baptist’s mission to prepare the way for the Lord was “to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children.” (1.17, RSV) Apparently, fathers’ hearts were oriented in a different direction.

Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son paints a picture of the heavenly Father and, by implication, of the good human father. This portrait is similar that of Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer. The true father is compassionate, forgiving and ever eager for his son’s return. This is a God to whom we should be drawn to pray to, one whom human fathers should imitate.
Sunday Readings for Sunday, July 28, 2019, 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Genesis 18.20-32 | Psalm 138 | Colossians 2.12-14 | Luke 11.1-13

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