The Lord’s Prayer, as Matthew presents it, asks that God’s kingdom would come, as God’s will is done on earth as it is done in heaven. What happens on earth, Jesus suggests, mirrors what is happening in the heavens.
It would seem that as we make this prayer to God, we are recognizing that with the incarnation, the kingdom of God has taken root in this world. As Jesus puts it, the kingdom is in our midst.
If we believe that the kingdom of God is more than getting into the next life, so that the kingdom has “this world” implications, then what is it that we’re requesting of God? What is the nature of this kingdom that we’re asking God to reveal in our midst?
As we consider these questions, it’s important to remember that the kingdom isn’t a minor focus. It is instead the focus of Jesus’ ministry. Everything he did, whether he was teaching or healing, revealed to the world the nature of God’s reign. Therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us that this petition stands at the very heart of this prayer.
Everything that is lifted up in this prayer is rooted in the premise that the kingdom of the Holy God is now present and is being revealed in the ministry of Jesus. This includes our request for God’s daily provisions as well as requests for forgiveness and protection against the inroads of evil. All of this is rooted in the assumption that God’s kingdom is truly present in the here and now.
Now, when we pray this prayer, we need to be aware that there are other kingdoms that have a claim on our allegiance, just as they did when Jesus taught this prayer to a people living under Roman occupation.
Indeed, the Roman emperor considered himself the Great Father, and the people of the empire were his children. He promised to provide them with bread and protection in exchange for their absolute obedience and worship.
So, when Jesus invites us to pray this prayer, we need to remember that God’s kingdom stands in contrast to Caesar’s – whether Caesar is an emperor or a president.
Because the early Christians understood themselves to be living in a parallel culture or kingdom, they were considered a threat to Roman society. In their minds, their primary allegiance was given to God – as Peter declares in his appearance before the Sanhedrin: “We must obey God rather than human authority” (Acts 5:29).
The kingdom of God is, as John Dominic Crossan notes, the “standard expression for what I have been calling the Great Divine Cleanup of this world. It was what this world would look like if and when God sat on Caesar’s throne, or if and when God lived in Antipas’ palace.”
In Crossan’s mind, this kingdom of God is fully religious or spiritual and political. It is a call to transformation of the world in which we live. It may seem to be a utopian vision, one that has no possibility of fulfillment, but the ways of God are not our ways.
The kingdom comes not with sword or coup d’état. It is not a party ideology – whether of left or right. But if God is to reign on earth as in heaven, then we cannot separate the spiritual and the social.
Contemplating what the kingdom looks like now and in the future, as well as the role we play in its expansion, requires that we recognize God as the one who ultimately brings it into existence.
That being said, it doesn’t mean we do not participate in this effort. It may mean sharing our faith, but it also means participating in a work that expresses God’s presence in the world, transforming it into the vision that God has for this world.
Bob Cornwall is pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy, Mich. His column has been excerpted from his new book, “Ultimate Allegiance: The Subversive Nature of the Lord’s Prayer.”
Bob Cornwall is Senior Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy, Michigan.