Just about every Sunday in our church, we lift our voices together and say the Lord’s Prayer. This is the prayer Jesus gave to his disciples in response to their request for him to “teach us how to pray.” Part of the prayer includes these words: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
The phrases “thy kingdom come” and “thy will be done” are characteristic of Semitic poetry in which a single idea is stated in two different ways. In other words, Jesus is not instructing us to pray for two different things – the kingdom to come and God’s will to be done on earth. This is one prayer. The prayer suggests that in heaven things are fine, but down here things are not so fine.
The tricky part is figuring out what God’s will is. We have all seen our share of hucksters and charlatans who claim to know the mind of God and use that knowledge for their own advantage. When we pray for God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven, how in heaven’s name can we ever know what that would look like? Who can tell us what it is that God wants?
For those who read and believe the Bible, the question of what God wants has an answer. In the writings of the prophet Micah, he poses this very question and states plainly what it is that God wants from us.
“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
Now the word “justice” here is not the retributive justice of punishment and judgment. This is the distributive justice that goes along with loving kindness. In other words, what God requires is that we care for those around us who are least able to care for themselves.
In the Bible the image for these most vulnerable in our midst are “widows and orphans.” Jesus called them “the least of these.” But we know who they are. They are the ones that a political and economic system has thrown to the side of the road. They are the unemployed and the unemployable. They are the elderly and the very young. They are the homeless and the hungry.
And they are the ones God loves and the ones Jesus called blessed.
We love to think of ourselves as a Christian nation, and if you count the number of Christians versus the numbers of people of other faiths, there is some truth to the claim. But in terms of content, unless we are willing to do what God wants – to do justice – then that claim has a hollow ring to it.
Even as I write these words, I can hear the response: “But it’s not the government’s job to do justice.” OK, then who? Is it only those who believe these words? Is it only those who care? Or do we have a collective calling from God to find a way to care for those whose lives hang on the edge of hunger and despair?
Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. I was hungry and you fed me. Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly. These are God’s words, not mine.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.