I remember as a teenager having really no idea what “hallowed” means in the Lord’s Prayer. Is it related to Halloween? Or the phrase “hallowed halls”? My guess was that it had to do with being respectful to God – he is God, I am not. Actually, I came to learn that that is not too far off. To “hallow” the name of God is to sanctify or consecrate it, to make it holy (or, better yet, attribute it all holiness).
A biblical text that helps to explain why Jesus wanted his disciples to desire the consecration of God’s Name is Ezekiel 36, a passage prophesying the restoration and “new life” of Israel. The Lord details the waywardness, idolatry, and covenantal rebellion of Israel such that the Lord’s people were scattered in exile (Ezek 36:17-20). Instead of immediately repenting, they became a mockery of God amongst the nations. Out of concern for “my holy name,” the Lord was compelled to act:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God; it is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned [i.e., degraded] among the nations to which you came. I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned…and the nations will know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes.” (Ezek 36:22-23).
The Lord goes on to promise Israel that he will gather and unite them, restore them to their land, cleanse them and give them a new heart and spirit to obey, and turn them from their idols back to the one true and living God (36:25-27).
God’s Name, People and Restoration
Two things are striking here: First, God’s name is tied to his people – their behavior and reputation redounds upon him, for good or bad. Secondly, God’s plan to restore God’s own name entails a restoration of all things – and this requires the transformation of God’s people both in terms of ethics (doing what’s right) and in terms of unity (bringing God’s people together in common life).
This is a healthy reminder that the Lord’s Prayer cannot be prayed by those who say, “I like Jesus, but don’t believe in the church.” Insofar as the church is the people of God, God’s name must be “sanctified” within the world through the church as a “conductor” of his reputation. You really can’t pray the Lord’s Prayer – at least not in the way Jesus expected – without doing so for the sake of the church as the worshipping and apostolic people of God.The Lord’s Prayer, A Missional Reading: Hallowed By Thy Name Click To Tweet
There is one more piece I want to bring into this petition. When we say, “sanctify your name,” what “name” is it? It is not simply the name “God” or even “YHWH” the prayer assumes here. The prayer begins, “Our Father” and the Gospels attest that, first and foremost, this is the Father of Jesus. And, by the time we get to the end of the Gospels, this Jesus, Son of God, is crucified and dies a miserable, shameful death on a cross (Roman statesman Cicero called the cross the “tree of shame”).
For the crucified, their family “name” was ruined, worse than ruined. The Roman state declared such ones fools, criminals, and abject creatures. When we pray “sanctify your name,” we pray to the Father who is implicated in this profaning of Jesus’ name. The reputation of the Son “sticks” to the Father. When we pray for the holiness of the Father’s name, we signal a protest against the Roman punishment, against the public judgment on Jesus.
We reject the verdict on Jesus, and the implication against his Father. Your Name is holy, Father of Jesus, Our Father. The cross of Christ is not folly or shame. It is beautiful. We embrace it. If the ignominy of Jesus “sticks” to you, Father, let it stick to us. Let us together fight for a world where the “Jesus way” – even if it be to a cross – represents the holiness of God.