An Exegetical Reflection on the Gospel of the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Luke 11:1-13, July 28, 2013
SOMETIME IN FEBRUARY 2001, a large number of poor people—the shirtless and the shoeless, the urban poor, the riffraff, the pro-Estradas among the masses—gathered at EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Ave.), and after a few nights, eventually marched toward the Malacañang apparently with the end in view of restoring the unlamented former President Joseph Estrada to power. One might easily dismiss the ESDA III, which is what many call that political gathering at EDSA in protest against the Arroyo dispensation—a product of political agitation, propaganda and manipulation, greed and opportunism, but what one cannot deny is that it was, if misdirected, a disturbing manifestation of social discontent. It was an attempt to articulate what the poor expected the government to give them—alleviation from misery. They dreamed of a better deal from the government and they thought, rightly or wrongly however, only their idol Estrada could give it to them.
In the Philippines, such a dream, of course, is nothing new, as the history of rebellion and revolution in the country shows. Rebels, the deluded, demagogues and politicians envision a society in which they are liberated from their historical pain and suffering. At the close of the Spanish regime, for example, Felipe Salvador, otherwise known as Apo Ipe, who founded the Santa Iglesia movement in Central Luzon, warned that soon there would be rain of gold and jewels for his followers after the “second flood,” in which all unbelievers would be destroyed. The Dios-Dios movement in Samar island in the 1880s promised not only freedom from taxes but more significantly, a mountain of gold for those who joined their rebellion against the Spaniards. In recent memory, Marcos had his Bagoing Lipunan (The New Society), Ramos his Philippines 2000, Estrada his Erap para sa Mahirap, (Erap for the Proletariat), Arroyo her Strong Republic, and Aquino his Matuwid na Daan (Straight Path)—all of them promising a new world for the poor. But looking at all these as a whole, one might ask whether they went beyond being mere promises.
Today’s Gospel is about Jesus’ vision for the poor. Of course, in its context, this Sunday’s 3rd Reading is about prayer, and although we are not told where or when Jesus prayed on this particular occasion, Luke probably inserted this in a series of episodes that transpired while Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51) to bring home the point that this is about discipleship—a disciple of Jesus must a man of prayer. And that is probably the intention of this selection in the liturgy. But for our purpose, we can look at the Gospel not as a lesson on prayer, but an introduction to what Jesus wanted for the poor by examining the meaning of its some parts. In this prayer which Jesus taught his disciples, we are given a general idea of his dream for the poor—it is the vision of the Kingdom of God. Earlier in the Gospel, Jesus announced a macarism for them: “Blessed are you poor, the Kingdom of God is yours” (Luke 6:20). Those who were oppressed, taken advantage of, economically deprived and had nothing to lean on except God, he called blessed, because their misery would come to an end. The kingdom of God would answer their dreams and their longing would be satisfied.
But what precisely is this vision for the poor? This vision is described in Luke’s Gospel in various ways, but if we limit ourselves to the Lord’s Prayer, we can already see some characteristics of that vision, the fulfillment of which his public ministry was directed. In the Lord’s Prayer, all the petitions describe various aspects of that vision which Jesus expected to be realized in the future for the poor. That is why, in New Testament studies, the Our Father is often called an eschatological prayer, because it is a prayer that speaks of something that will happen in the final times. For the nonce, however, it suffices to focus on the first petition: “Father, hallowed be your name” (Luke 11:2b). In invoking God as Father, Jesus made it clear that the fulfillment of the hope of the poor does not consist in the abundance of land, livestock, money or material satisfaction—that would be too ephemeral—but can be found in the ultimate community in which all acknowledge God as their Father who loves and cares for them and their needs, and in their being his sons and daughters (cf Deut 1:31; Hos 11:1; Is 49:15).
This implies, of course, that all women and men recognize their status as brothers and sisters in the family of God. In Luke’s theology, this is begun here on earth when people hear and act on the word of God in Jesus (Luke 8:21), and eventually form one family under the Fatherhood of God. (Extra-Lucan reflection would teach that this is made possible by the Holy Spirit through whom the disciples of Jesus become adopted sons and daughters [Gal 4:5-7; Rom 8:14-17]. These disciples share the life which God himself communicated to Jesus [2 Pet 1:4]). In this family which is being realized here on earth, each member, like the Samaritan, treats his brother with love and care, without discrimination and greed; and his action, like Mary’s, springs from listening to Jesus. In that family, there is no longer any place of agitation, propaganda, disinformation, and manipulation to which the poor are very often subjected; on the contrary, they will receive the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.
It is a family in which God’s name is held holy. To be sure, many people often take “hallowed be your name” to mean that we are to praise, magnify and glorify the name of God. Since the Charismatic Communities praise the name of the Lord in their prayer meetings, it is sometimes claimed that they are the ones who really understand the meaning of the petition. That might be true, but the thought that in this petition the disciples are to honor the name of God by praising and glorifying it is obviously of secondary significance. The meaning of the passage, rather, has to do with the action of God. It is not we who sanctify, but God himself who makes holy his name. The community of disciples prays that God bring about a situation in which all peoples and individuals recognize his name. This particular text harks back to the vision of Ezekiel (Ezek 36:22-26) in which God rehearses the wickedness of Israel, and out of his zeal to sanctify his name, gathers all Israel from their exile and leads them back to their land. He reorders the people and creates a harmonious society, freed from impurities and idols, and liberated from foreign oppression, the people given a new heart and new spirit. Thus, in praying for the hallowing of God’s name, Jesus envisioned that God would vindicate his name by gathering those who believe in him into a family of disciples. In that family, there would be an end to all evils which desecrated his name: exploitation of the weak by the powerful, cheating and manipulation of the poor by the rich and the clever, discrimination in social relationship on the basis of sex, creed, color, work, etc. The poor would certainly be vindicated in that form of community.
That is the picture of the hoped-for society that Jesus prayed for, and that is the alternative vision of society that we hope God will give us whenever we pray, “Father, hallowed be thy name.” That is the kind of community that is in store for us in the final times. And precisely because the Lord’s Prayer is the only prayer that Jesus taught his disciples, it is a prayer which only we Christians can, and must pray. It is our identity. That is what we wish to be: a community of life and love, shared with God and our fellowmen. It is a community freed from all forms of evil, and for service and love for one another. It is also our mission. We have to engage in the realization of this hoped-for community. At the same time, if we believe that God is our Father, then we must behave as brothers and sisters to one another. If we believe in the holiness of his name, then we ought to work for the gathering of all Christians—no matter their color, social status or nationality (cf Gal 3:26-28)—so a Christian world will become the evidence for the sanctity of his name. By so doing, we share in the task of establishing God’s reign on earth. That reign more than satisfies the longings of the poor, but not necessarily in the manner poor people might think. But they have to learn the ways of God in fulfilling their hope and satisfying their needs. That is why they need to become “poor in spirit” (Matt 5:3).