Hallowed be your name Matthew 6:9b
All right, all right. I know. I start a new series and then disappear for two and a half months. What can I say? There’s blogging, and then there’s life. And without life, what would there be to blog about?
Anyway, here I am now. And I want to talk about swearing. You see, most Christians appear to think this line of the Lord’s Prayer is about blaspheming. And yes, I did use to cringe a bit when my Austrian Jewish mother came out with ‘Jesus Maria!’ (pronounced ‘YESsus MaREEa’) or ‘Oh Christ!’. Funnily enough I didn’t mind so much when she simply said ‘Oh God’ – it felt more generic, somehow. But since she died, I’ve become quite a swearer myself. I have to restrain myself in polite company (mainly Christians) and I try not to use nicknames for female body parts as curses (but sometimes four letter words are just so punchy and satisfying…).
The thing is, Jesus didn’t actually say anything about this kind of swearing at all. When he commanded us to ‘Swear not at all’, he wasn’t talking about posting ‘OMG’ or ‘Jesus wept’. What he was attacking was the idea that by invoking our children’s lives, or our grandmother’s honour (or dare I say by placing our hand on a Bible or a Qur’an?) we were somehow demonstrating that we were telling truth at that moment, whatever we might do at any other time. Instead he told us to speak truth at all times, which would mean we never needed an oath. That’s why traditionally, Quakers and Mennonites refuse to swear oaths in court, instead simply affirming that we are bearing true witness – which we aspire to do at all times, not just in a witness box.
So when Jesus prayed that his Father’s name be hallowed, he can’t possibly have been talking about swearing. That is not what ‘taking God’s name in vain’ means at all. Rather, it surely means using God’s name to put an imprimatur on our own enterprises, whether they conform to the will of God or not. So when a nuclear submarine, a means of wiping out thousands of people bearing God’s image, is called ‘Corpus Christi’ and blessed by a chaplain, that is taking God’s name in vain. That is God’s name not being hallowed. And when a country that has become rich from slavery, as ours did, is called a ‘Christian nation’, that is taking God’s name in vain, and God’s name not being hallowed. And when, as I read recently, a well known ex-patriate Christian, who has not lived in the UK for decades and knows nothing about the effect of the last government’s policies on the poor, the disabled, the vulnerable, pronounces that the Conservative victory in the recent election was ‘supernatural’ – that is taking God’s name in vain, and that is God’s name not being hallowed. To take God’s name and attach it to something that is clearly nothing to do with the agenda of the Prince of Peace, that hinders rather than furthers the Kingdom of God – that is blasphemy.
I believe that when Jesus prayed that God’s name be hallowed, he was asking that it should only be used in connection with God’s purposes – to create a new heavens and new earth, to bring about the peaceable Kingdom – and that it should never be brought into disrepute by being used to justify cruelty, oppression or hate. That is hallowing God’s name: to use it only as a label for enterprises that actually bring good news to the poor, freedom to the oppressed, sight to the blind. And I want to echo Jesus’ prayer that we should only use it that way.