This is the second post on Gupta’s work on the Lord’s prayer. Having given his introduction, Gupta proceeds to explore the first line of the prayer, “Our Father in heaven.” Interestingly, besides the name “Lord’s prayer,” the prayer has alternatively been known in church history as the Pater noster, in Latin, the Our Father.
Gupta opens with a discussion of the context in which God is called Father. Some have suggested that Jesus’ use of the name in reference to God was one-of-a-kind, perhaps even scandalous. But, Gupta clarifies, “While Jesus’ addressing of God as ‘Father’ in prayer was distinctive, it was not precedented” (38, emph. original, but see John 5:18). He points to places in the OT where God is depicted as a Father (e.g. Exod 4:22-23; Isa 64:8-9; Psalm 89:26). (For a lengthier, accessible treatment of this theme, I recommend The Shadow of the Almighty).
In the context of Matthew, Jesus alone is the Son of the Father, but believers come to know God as Father through him, coming to share in his sonship. Alongside this, Gupta picks up on the theme of “family resemblance” (42), where we as children imitate our Father through our actions, such as showing love to our enemies (Matt 5:48). He also addresses how Matthew’s fatherhood imagery dovetails with his depiction of God as intimately caring for his children. Here, too, Gupta looks at Jesus’ use of the Aramaic “Abba” to address God in Gethsemane (Mark 14:36; cf. Gal 4:6; Rom 8:15). Some scholars thought this best translated as “daddy” in the past but it has since been shown that adults in Jesus’ time used the form of address as well. The middle term, which I prefer, “dad,” is not addressed at this point, however. Many people have never addressed their dads as “father,” so that a gap between how God is addressed and how earthy dads are addressed has emerged in the church, something I sure goes beyond the picture provided by the NT.
A quote from Cyprian of Carthage introduces the comments on the opening line, focussing on “our”: “Before all things, the Teacher of peace and Master of unity did not wish prayer to be offered individually and privately” (45). This is true, and the primary setting of the prayer is surely communal. But the question remains as to what positive role the Lord’s Prayer might play in private. Gupta proceeds to provide a personal reflection on the use of the name “Father” in the prayer. He writes, ‘When I first had children, I remember my father would call me on the telephone and ask how they were. Once he said, ‘Nijay, you know how much you love those babies, your beloved children? Remember, my son, I love you even more.'” With the last part of the line, “in heaven,” Gupta suggests that this leads us to reflect on God’s omnipresence (being everywhere), greatness and majesty, and perfection.
In Luke, Jesus simply has his disciples pray one word to open, “Father.” But the context says something more. Luke portrays God the Father as compassionate. Thus Jesus commands his disciples, “Be merciful as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Gupta also points to the famous parable of the prodigal son, which only appears in Luke (15:11-32).
In closing, Gupta turns to the problem of gendered language in the Lord’s prayer. “Some men and women have had difficult experiences with their fathers such that it is uncomfortable, perhaps even offensive, to imagine God in such a way” (49). Of course, there are also other criticisms on this point, like how such language functions to uphold the patriarchal superiority of the male over the female, for example, and works together with other oppressive theologies like an all male priesthood (which RC theologians uphold on the basis of Jesus’ maleness). Gupta seeks to uphold the language of fatherhood while still being pastorally sensitive, stating, “I am hesitant to reword the LP because kinship language is so central to the biblical message” (49). He looks at Patricia Wilson-Kastner’s suggestions, namely: showing the positive content of Jesus’ relationship to God the Father, underscoring the limits of the metaphor, resourcing other biblical imagery for God, and speaking of Jesus’ Father before speaking of God as our own Father. In a short commentary there is no room to go into detail on this issue, however.