A student recently asked me why the most recent translation of the Mass prefaces the Our Father with these words:
…at the Savior’s command, and formed by divine teaching, we dare to pray…’
It was particularly the word ‘dare’ that stuck out to him, as it seemed odd to suggest that something we’ve been doing most of our lives (praying the Lord’s prayer) was a daring action. I’ve written previously about the concept of divine sonship – using the relationship of father/son (parent/child) to help us understand the closeness God desires to have with us. When one understands that he or she is loved unconditionally, they become capable of incredible things. This is why the image of God as a Father and we as His beloved sons and daughters is woven throughout scripture. St. John writes: “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1).
The danger with a relationship seen only through this lens is that children don’t automatically see the responsibilities that come with their relationship. A child growing up on a farm may love the farm animals and not comprehend that he or she will be required to do simple chores to help maintain that farm (and if that same child eventually inherits the farm, they’ll need to learn and do all the work!) This is why St. Paul writes about the other side of this relationship: “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” (1 Corinthians 4:1).
To consider oneself a son/daughter and a servant of God seems like a strange pairing. You don’t expect someone to have the same sort of intimacy with their son the same way they would with a cook. You don’t expect the same immediate obedience from a child as you do someone on the payroll. And yet, in relation to God – each one of us is both child and servant. It may be that we can look to the story of Robin Hood for some inspiration…
The basic plot of a Robin Hood story might look like this (there have been a variety of takes over the last 6 centuries):
In the absence of his father, the King’s brother runs wild over the kingdom… increasing taxes and neglecting those in need, all in order to make his life more comfortable. His misbehavior causes no small amount of trouble for all those who live in the Kingdom, but he presumes his familial relationship with the King was enough to protect him from any real consequences. It’s the hero of Sherwood Forest – Robin Hood, a lowly subject of the King – who makes it his life’s work to set things straight until the King returns- robbing from the rich and giving to those most in need, regardless of the consequences for himself.
For the sake of a simpler discussion, let’s imagine that the main villain isn’t the King’s brother but instead his son. He understands what it is to be a beloved child – in fact he counts on it, forgetting that his power comes from his role as a steward of the Kingdom. On the day the king returns, he will have to give an account of his stewardship (a reckoning that will not go well for him!)
There are many servants of the King who reside in England during this time – servants who consider it their only responsibility to do their duty, without any consideration for those who suffer as a result. You can consider many from the story of Robin Hood here: particularly the soldiers and tax collectors who do the son’s bidding. When the King returns, they have been obedient servants… but one might ask if they have been faithful, having blindly stood by while the will of the King was ignored and the needs of the many oppressed.
Robin Hood is also a subject to the King. But he remembers who the King is and what he would wish, and as a result is unable to stand by and let the tyrannical regime of the King’s son sweep over his country uncontested. So he ‘robs from the rich and gives to the poor.’ As long as the son rules England, Robin Hood is an outlaw and in mortal danger, but on the day the King returns, he will be exonerated – so long as he isn’t killed first. In many of these stories the King returns to set things right – and Robin’s hope in the goodness of the King is rewarded. You might say that Robin understood what it meant to be ‘son’ better than the King’s son ever did.
You can imagine that the moment of the King’s return bring’s many things to light. A son who didn’t recognize the responsibilities that come with being son. Servants who blindly obey their orders. And others who sought to do their King’s bidding in every circumstance -who saw their relationship with the King alongside their duties to Him, and who sought to obey. While each one had a relationship with the King, their way of living it took a very different tform.
There is an encouragement and a warning in the story of Robin Hood for all of us. If we dare to call Him Father, do we also dare to live as His sons and servants? And if our very identity comes from our understanding of life as one of God’s children, we ought never forget that we are also His servants – people with duties and responsibilities. The love of God demands a response from us – moment by moment and day by day – this is our life of faith.
Yes, dear friends, God loves us. This is the great truth of our life; it is what makes everything else meaningful. We are not the product of blind chance or absurdity; instead our life originates as part of a loving plan of God. To abide in his love, then, means living a life rooted in faith, since faith is more than the mere acceptance of certain abstract truths: it is an intimate relationship with Christ, who enables us to open our hearts to this mystery of love and to live as men and women conscious of being loved by God. -Pope Benedict XVI