NT Wright – Retelling Stories: Alternate Histories and the Lord's Prayer

Mike Work, writing on his class blog recently, wrote a great short post about Jesus’ way of being a storyteller.  He writes,

In his [NT Wright] words, “Jesus made a regular practice of retelling the story of Israel in such a way as to subvert other tellings, and to invite his hearers to make his telling of the story their own (174).??? The prominent locus of this was in the parables, which told the story of Israel, but tweaked it, often shifting the boundaries and reversing the outcomes of the story. One prominent motif was the divine status reversal, with those well-off in the present often coming out not so well. These stories did something; they painted an alternative future, which countered the visible reality of Jesus’ day.

Mike’s comment stirred my mind in two directions, one is directly related to the first verse of Lord’s Prayer and the other has to do with Quakerism (next post).


Our Father In The Heavens
The Lord’s Prayer begins and ends in worship of the one true God.  Jesus’ modeling for the disciples to address God with “Our Father??? shows that he has invited them into a trusting relationship with God.  Through this address we are continually reminded that we are God’s children.  This address is also rooted in the election of Israel as related to the Mosaic covenant in Deuteronomy 32:6, and points to Jesus’ viewing his disciples as a new community, a reconstruction of Israel as N.T. Wright suggests.  Therefore this address and subsequent petitions are, as stated above, for this new community of God, one rooted in Jewish history but also reconstructed out of it.  This prayer then does not reflect our possession of God as if to say “OUR Father;??? rather, it is to be prayed in the church as we align ourselves to a specific person. 

Retelling of Fatherhood: Yahweh Alone is Father
This part of the prayer is acting as a re-situating of the people of God, in it Jesus is pulling the whole of the narrative of God’s people together and saying we will refer to God as our one true father.  This is retelling the story in a way that Jesus subverts his own Jewish religion by calling Yahweh a radically intimate name – Abba.  In other words, Jesus changed the way his disciples would interact with God the father and redefined earthly fatherhood.  In the kingdom of God there are no fathers other than Yahweh. 

Lohfink says, “In the new family there are to be no ‘fathers.’ They are too symbolic of patriarchal domination.  Jesus’ community of disciples and together with it the true Israel are to have only a single father, the one in Heaven.??? 
And Hauerwas states, “All biological fatherhood is relativized by our lifelong learning that God alone is our true father…all human fathers are measured, judged and fall short on the basis of our experiences of God as father.???  Thus built into the Lord’s Prayer, often referred to as the “Our Father??? is the reminder that we have one holy and loving Father in heaven. 

The Nearness of God: Direct Access to the Father
The next phrase, “in the heavens??? as Willard translates, should be understood not as “our Father who is somewhere out there disconnected from us,??? but instead should be closer to “the sense Jesus intended,  ‘…Our Father always near us.’??? This not only sets the “configuration of reality in which we pray,??? and the petitions of the rest of the prayer, but also declares the imminence (nearness) of the Father.  The father Jesus refers to here desires to be intimate with his people, near and available to them.   

It shows that God is with all of us, at all times, and there is no one who has more direct access to God than another.  The community who utters “Our Father…??? is reminded that we are to invite all of creation into this simple prayer with us because he is the father of all of us.  In this sense the prayer is inclusive and welcomes all; we are, as George Fox says, to “bring all into the worship of God???.

The entire prayer could be viewed as a retelling of the history of the people of God in one way or another.  What is important is that the aspects that arise from understanding this aspect of the prayer is, as stated above, that it invites us to participate in the mission of God.  Jesus meant to “invite his hearers to make his telling of the story their own,??? embodying these aspects of the pray will transform we interact with God, self and others. 

We will see how the other parts of the prayer can transform our community and mission as we finish this study.

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Wess

...is the William R. Rogers Director of Friends Center and Quaker Studies at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC., PhD in Intercultural Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, served as a "released minister" at Camas Friends Church, and father of three. He enjoys sketchnoting, sharing conversation over coffee with a friend, listening to vinyl and writing creative nonfiction.

2 thoughts on “NT Wright – Retelling Stories: Alternate Histories and the Lord's Prayer”

  1. Wess,
    Thanks for the praise; it is appreciated (particularly in the hecticity that is week 10/10+).

    I like what you see in the prayer, both the retelling of Israel’s history/scriptures and the invitation to participate in the world it evokes.

    Continue the study, amigo; once this week comes to a close, i hope to dialogue in more depth. I’ll have some hard-copy stuff for you come Friday, and look forward to your feedback.

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