by Father Mike Stubbs
When we were small children, perhaps one of the first prayers that we learned by heart was the Our Father.
We continue to recite it every time we attend Mass. Because of that prayer, it is perhaps natural for us to address God as “Father.” After all, that is how Jesus taught us to pray.
At the same time, it was somewhat unusual for Jesus to address God that way. It was not that common to call God “Father” or to think of God in those terms at the time of Jesus. It is not something that we find frequently in the Old Testament. More often, God is called “Lord” or “King.”
But the appellation of father does occur occasionally. We hear one example in Sunday’s first reading, Jer 31:7-9. God is speaking: “For I am a father to Israel, Ephraim is my first-born.”
In this passage of Jeremiah, God has been promising to bring the people of Israel home, out of exile in Babylonia: “Behold, I will bring them back from the land of the north.” (The land of the north is Babylonia.)
In making this promise, God is looking forward to a repeat of the exodus event centuries earlier, in which God brought the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt to the Promised Land. Once again, God will take them safely through the desert to their homeland.
God’s declaration of being “a father to Israel” makes the parallel between the original exodus and this new exodus even clearer. Those words echo the words that God had instructed Moses to tell Pharaoh: “Israel is my son, my first–born” (Ex 4:22).
God is demanding that Pharaoh let the people of Israel leave because of this bond of kinship. To back this demand, God threatens to punish Pharaoh: “Let my son go, that he may serve me. If you refuse to let him go, I warn you, I will kill your son, your first-born” (Ex 4:23). That is exactly what happens in the tenth plague. We must take God seriously in this claim to be father.
But for us to call God “Father” should bring us some measure of comfort, not fear. It reflects our belief that God cares for us as parents care for their children. It reminds us that we are created in the image and likeness of God, just as children frequently resemble their parents. It underlines our dependence upon God, just as children depend upon their parents.
And it encourages us to become like little children, so that we might enter the kingdom of heaven.