By Jim Forest
Every word in the “Our Father” is a deep well. Just consider the very first word in the prayer: “our”. Not my Father and not your Father but our Father. Our. Think about the implications. The context is a question in which the disciples ask Jesus how to pray. Jesus responds by teaching us this most basic prayer, the first word of which embraces everyone. No one is excluded.
There is no private, one-on-one relationship with our Creator. What a challenge! Too often I see myself, my needs and my wants as having absolute priority. My view is the view that matters. The word “my” has priority over “our.”
But my salvation depends on my conversion from me to us — that is loving my neighbor in the same way that I love God. Who is my neighbor? Whoever happens to be standing in front of me, friend or adversary.
“What you do to the least person,” Jesus says in his teaching about the Last Judgment, “you do to me.”
In a section of The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky relates the story about a me-first woman who is almost saved by an onion. Merciless and selfish person that she was throughout her life, when she died she went to hell. You could say that hell was her ambition. In her selfish actions she had chosen hell day after day for many years. Yet even after her death, her guardian angel sought to save her and so approached the Savior, saying a mistake had been made: “Don’t you remember? Olga once gave an onion to a beggar.” What the angel left unsaid was that the onion had started to rot and that it wasn’t so much given as thrown at the beggar. The Savior said, “You are right. I bless you to pull her out of hell with that onion.” So the angel flew into the twilight of hell — all those people at once so close to each other and yet so far apart — and there was the selfish woman, glaring at her neighbors. The angel extended the onion toward her and began to pull her out of hell with it. Others saw what was happening, saw the angel’s strength, and saw their chance. They grabbed the woman’s legs and so were being lifted with her, a ribbon of people being drawn out of hell by a powerful angel and just one onion. Only the woman, in death as well as life, had never wanted company. She began kicking, yelling at her uninvited guests, “Just for me! Just for me!” The angel wept. These three merciless words, “just for me,” are hell itself. And so the onion became rotten and the woman and all the others attached to her fell back into the disconnection — the me-ness — of hell.
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written for Lorraine Kisly
text as of 25 April 2016
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