THE LORD’S PRAYER SUMS UP THE SPIRITUALITY OF A TRUE PROPHET
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ ECCL 48:1-14; MT 6:7-15 ]
Among all the prophets of the Old Testament, Elijah is considered the most outstanding prophet. In the transfiguration of our Lord, we read that “there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” (Mt 17:3) Moses symbolizes the Law and Elijah the Prophet. Again, we remember what Jesus said at the beginning of His ministry when He declared, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Mt 5:17f)
So much so, it was thought that before the Messiah came, Elijah would return again. “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” (Mal 4:5f) Jesus said this of John the Baptist, “For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come.” (Mt 11:13) Some even thought that Jesus could be Elijah. When Jesus asked His disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Mt 16:13f)
If Elijah were considered the icon of a true prophet, it was because, as the first reading described, a man who was zealous for the House of the Lord. He sought “to turn the hearts of father towards their children, and to restore the tribes of Jacob.” He was all ardent in seeking to wipe out idolatry from the land of Israel. “No task was too hard for him, and even in death his body prophesied.” He spoke without fear or favour and without mincing his words. “The prophet Elijah arose like a fire, his word flaring like a torch.” He had no qualms in “dragging kings down to destruction, and high dignitaries from their beds; hearing reproof on Sinai, and decrees of punishment on Horeb.” Such was the fury and uncompromising stand of Elijah. He feared no one except God alone.
Most of all, it was his faith in the power of prayer that obtained God’s favours, showing the people that God was with him. In the book of James, we read, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (Jms 5:16-18)
As a prophet, he did not work alone. He cultivated other prophets to succeed him. He took to “anointing kings as avengers, and prophets to succeed” him. He called Elisha to be his disciple and there were communities of prophets that he formed. (cf 1 Kg 20:15-21) He planned his succession. A good leader is not only one who leads and does great things but he mentors others to take over his position. “So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. He was ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he himself was driving the twelfth pair. Elijah went up to him and threw his cloak around him.” (1 Kg 19:19) Most of all, he bestowed upon Elisha a double portion of his spirit when he “was shrouded in the whirlwind, and Elisha was filled with his spirit.”
In truth, the charismatic prophet was also manifested in the lives of John the Baptist and in our Lord. For this reason, they were mistaken as the Elijah who came again. John the Baptist, like Elijah, was also zealous for the House of Israel. He preached the Word of God without fear and even reprimanded King Herod. He spoke the truth forcefully without wavering. He was ready to die for his convictions. Jesus too was zealous for the House of the Lord. At the temple of Jerusalem, “To those who sold doves he said, ‘Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market! ‘His disciples remembered that it is written: ‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” He spoke against injustices and hypocrisy of the leaders on one hand, and the mercy and compassion of God on the other.
The Lord’s Prayer taught by our Lord captures succinctly the spirit of a true prophet. In the first place, a true prophet must have a deep relationship with God the Father. “Our Father in heaven.” This is how we should pray by remembering that God is our Father. Unless we recognize His Fatherhood, we will not pray with confidence. Intimacy with God as our Father is the foundation of prayer. By recognizing God as our Father, we too become conscious that all others are His children and therefore our brothers and sisters. If we love the Father, we will also love His children, for which parent does not want to see all His children happy and united in love. This was how Elijah regarded God. This explains why he had total faith in His faithfulness to Israel.
The second petition invites us to pray that His name may be kept holy. To ask that His name be kept holy simply means that we want to honour His name. We would not allow anyone to cause His name to lack credibility, especially by our behaviour and conduct. If we claim that God is our Father, then we must not behave in such a way that brings discredit to His name. Every child is to live in such a way that honours his parents and bring glory to them. Jesus said, “let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:16) This was what Elijah sought to do to purify the people, so that God’s name would not be tarnished by their infidelity. He was insistent on working towards reclaiming the pristine faith of Israel.
The third petition instructs us to put God’s kingdom and His will before ours. Again, this is what a true prophet should do. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.” Jesus said, “Seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Mt 6:33) Then again, He said, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:20) Seeking His kingdom is doing His will, as expressed in the teaching of Christ and in the Covenant. A true prophet is only concerned about doing God’s will and establishing His kingdom of justice and love on earth. For this reason, all true prophets, whether it was Elijah, John the Baptist or our Lord, were devoted to the proclamation and the establishment of the Kingdom of God by exhorting all to do the will of God. “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” (Mt 7:24)
The fourth quality of a prophet is that of dependence on divine providence. Jesus commanded us to say, “Give us today our daily bread.” This was how Elijah lived his life, in total dependence on God. When there was a drought, God fed him with meat brought by Ravens, gave him water, and a widow brought him bread and a drink. God fed Elijah and gave him only what he needed. In this way, we will never forget that what we have comes from Him. This was the way John the Baptist lived as well, and so too our Lord. Trust in His divine providence is what the Lord teaches us. “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.” (Mt 6:31f) To the disciples, He said to them, “Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts – no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep.” (Mt 10:9f)
The fifth characteristic of a true prophet is that he not only preaches repentance but more importantly, the mercy of God and not just His wrath or punishment. This is expressed in the petition, “And forgive us our debts, as we have forgiven those who are in debt to us.” It is not enough to warn people of the consequences of their sins, but we must proclaim the mercy of God to win them over through forgiveness of their sins. This is how the Lord saved us from our sins, by showing us His unconditional love and mercy. In the final analysis, only mercy heals and wins over the sinner, no matter how incorrigible he might be.
Finally, a true prophet fights against evil. When we pray, “do not put us to the test, but save us from the evil one”, we recognize that this battle is ongoing. But without the help of God, we cannot win the battle over the Evil One. So, as St Paul urges us, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. (Eph 6:10)
Indeed, the Lord’s Prayer sums up the teaching on the Sermon on the Mount in a concise manner. It is the prayer of a true disciple. However, it is more than just a prayer; it provides the perspective, the attitude and the spirituality of a true disciple. All true prophets, including Elijah, exhibited these qualities and hence, they truly lived out the Word of God in their lives. Because of these, they are great prophets and true sons of God.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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