Tuesday of the First Week of Lent
I love the Our Father, and there is so much to love in it.
Like the phrase “hallowed be thy name.” What a great command. That the Lord’s name would be hallowed—that is, treated as truly holy, mysterious, altogether other than us, and good beyond our imagining. Instead, so often the Lord’s name is mobilized or even weaponized by Christians who are far too confident that they have figured out the will of God and are absolutely certain that God is on their side.
Or the phrases “your kingdom come; your will be done.” Not our kingdom come; our will be done. Your kingdom, your will—again, how often are Christians convinced that they know the mind of God, God’s intentions, what God loves and what God hates. When Jesus saw fit to teach us how to pray, he was clear that we are to pray not for our visions of the future but for God’s—a vision that we might know something about (thanks to the glimpse God gave us through Jesus’ life and teachings) but that we don’t know all about because, again, God is not us. God has His own plans.
Or the plea that God would give us this day our daily bread—a plea that recognizes our utter dependency on God for what we need to be sustained. We like to imagine that we are in control of all that—that we can make sure we have what we need to sustain and protect our loved ones and ourselves. But, the fact is, we don’t. Or, even if we do today, there is no guarantee that we will tomorrow. Our economic situations can turn on a dime with a plant closing, corporate strategy shift, sharp downturn in the markets, and a whole host of other contingencies.
In short, when Jesus teaches us to pray he calls us again and again to be humble about what we think we know about the mind of God, God’s will, and God’s kingdom. The truth is, we don’t know. And so, we ought to pray.
And then we come to the part about forgiveness. And I can’t ever pray the Our Father without remembering one of the most extraordinary acts of forgiveness I have ever known.
On October 2, 2006, Charles Carl Roberts IV walked into a one-room Amish school apparently intending to sexually molest the female students before killing them. His plan was thwarted by various interventions made by one of the teachers, some of the students, and the police. In the end, he shot 8 out of the 10 girls (between the ages of 6 and 13), killing 5. And then he killed himself.
The Amish community very quickly gathered around the schoolhouse to learn what had happened and offer comfort and condolences to grieving families and friends. One of the families to which they offered that and so much more was the family (in particular the wife and father) of the perpetrator. Members of the Amish community, including a grandfather of one of the girls who was killed, went to the house of Roberts’ wife, Marie Roberts, to tell her that they forgave her husband and her family for what had happened that day. Some Amish even attended her husband’s funeral, and she was invited to attend (and did) a funeral of one of the girls.
Why? Why did the Amish do this and, even more, so soon after the event? Why didn’t they insist on retribution—what so many would see as justice—for their lost children? How could they forgive like that?
The answer—because they take the Our Father absolutely seriously. For them, the Our Father could not be clearer. We are called to forgive. And only if we do so in this life can we hope for forgiveness from our Father in the next. They also engaged in profound acts of forgiveness and grace because they believe that it is not enough to hold certain beliefs—one must act on them. In acting on this belief that we must forgive, they offered a family, which was reeling from the shock that came with learning that a loved one had done the unthinkable, a way forward into God’s grace and healing.
For a whole host of reasons, I could never be Amish. That said, I pray that I may, like them, live the kind of forgiveness that makes God’s love and grace visible in the world. Amen.
- Sue Trollinger