IS 55: 10-11
PS 34: 4-5, 6-7, 16-17, 18-19
MT 6: 7-15
Before he became Minnesota’s junior senator, Al Franken performed for many years on Saturday Night Live. His most famous character was Stuart Smalley, a sincere but slightly ridiculous self-help guru with a memorable daily affirmation: “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”
Occasionally, the Stuart Smalley sketch included the guest host. One segment featured Michael Jordan, then in the prime of his career and the most popular athlete on earth. Stuart, being a self-help guru, asks Jordan whether he ever struggles with self-loathing. “I can imagine that, a night before a game, you must lie awake thinking ‘I’m not good enough,’ ‘everybody’s better than me,’ ‘I’m not going to score any points,’ ‘I have no business playing this game.’”
Jordan’s answer’s is simple, and priceless: “Well…not really.”
I think this sketch reveals the way I’ve often thought about Jesus. Theoretically, I can accept his humanity, but I’ve always assumed that he was human like Jordan was athletic: beyond the clutches of self doubt.
Today’s Gospel suggests that I’m wrong. Though I’ve uttered the Our Father a million times, I’ve never noticed how perfect, how polished the prayer seems. Unless one is following the Michael Jordan theory of Jesus’s awesomeness, you have to believe that Jesus didn’t compose those timeless words on the spot. It seems equally possible that Jesus knew the prayer because he himself had prayed it. After all, the Our Father regularly invokes the second person plural:
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
One might assume that the “we’s” and “us’s” suggest that Jesus was simply adopting the voice of the mere mortals whom he was teaching. But I’m not so sure. We do know that Jesus was led into temptation, where he probably longed for His daily bread (Mt 4, 1-11). We know that he prayed a lot.
But surely sinless Jesus never trespassed? Surely that line is offered for use by us regular human beings, the bumbling Stuart Smalley’s of the world? Maybe. But perhaps the human Jesus sometimes wondered whether he had trespassed. Did he think, if only for a moment, that it had been rude to imply that the Canaanite woman was a dog (Mt 15, 21-28)? Did he think he’d overshot it when he called Peter Satan (Mt 16, 23)? Did he think, after he overturned the money changers’ tables, “Well, that could’ve gone better” (Mt 21, 12)?
I’m not saying he did trespass. Sometimes bluntness, in word or in deed, is called for. What I’m saying is that the Our Father suggests that Jesus prayed like the rest of us—out of need and doubt. When he prayed, he prayed. He didn’t ethereally commune with the other persons of the Blessed Trinity; he called for help. He did it so often that he learned exactly what to say.
Dr. Paul Lynch is Associate Professor of English and Director of the English Department Writing Program.