Praying the Lord’s Prayer During the Covid Crisis
The Lord’s Prayer has a privileged place in Christian devotion. It unites Christians everywhere, giving expression to our desire to partner with God and take responsibility to make God’s kingdom come here on earth. That kingdom is, foremost, a kingdom of justice.
In Matthew’s gospel, the Lord’s Prayer (6:9-15) is included within the Sermon on the Mount (chs. 5-7). In this sermon, Jesus offers a radicalized version of the Law given on Sinai. That Law was addressed to a liberated, but still landless people who were faced with uncertainty; it charged them to come forth from the crucible of suffering and oppression, to become a nation, unlike any other, characterized by God’s justice and mercy. Matthew wrote for the generation of Jews reeling from the Roman conquest of their land in 70 CE. For both the Sinai generation and the generation subjected to Roman rule, the uncertainty of existence moved them to listen more attentively to God and recommit to God’s vision for this world.
In March 2020, Covid arrived like a speeding freight train, T-boning life itself. It left in its wake a paralyzing uncertainty few of us have ever experienced. In this time of unprecedented crisis, we might want to reconsider to what we commit ourselves when we say the Lord’s Prayer.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done
Data regarding Covid mortality rates among minorities dramatically testifies to the systemic racial inequality and injustice in our country. Further, multiple studies confirm that the economic fallout from Covid is greatest for people of color, who are consistently subjected to occupational segregation, employment discrimination, and various forms of exploitation. Minorities perform most of the low paying jobs in our economy and though their work environments are often conducive to Covid spread, they do not have the luxury of teleworking. Granted, Covid shows no partiality. It has affected people of all races, ethnicities, and economic levels. However, it has brought into sharper focus the two worlds that exist side by side here in the US, and elsewhere: the majority-white world of the prosperous, and the world of the poor, populated mainly, but not exclusively, by minorities.
We did not need Covid to remind us of this. We know it. But that knowledge has not always translated into action. If we commit to partnering with God to make God’s kingdom come, indifference to injustice is not an option. We must work to overcome discrimination and ensure just economic systems that safeguard the health and well-being of all so that all have the opportunity to work for a just wage.
Give us this day our daily bread
The request for bread is the first of three petitions in the Lord’s prayer. When God’s people wandered in the desert without food, God heard their plea and provided sustenance (Ex 16:8). But God’s gift of daily food came with a proviso, viz., that consumption be based on need, (Ex 16:16). This stipulation reflects God’s will for the equitable distribution of resources.
The Covid crisis has brought food insecurity to new levels. The interruptions in the food supply chain, coupled with inflated prices, have left thousands of newly unemployed and cash-strapped consumers to swell the ranks of those who regularly experience food insecurity. What does it mean for us with full refrigerators and pantries, to say, “give us daily bread” when Covid has left so many without daily sustenance? Resource-sharing, and economic justice must be the concern of everyone who prays the Lord’s Prayer. We need to commit ourselves to needs-based consumption so that everyone has what she needs, and no one goes hungry. We need to feed the hungry and commit ourselves to ensuring equity so that God’s will be done.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors
In Matthew’s day, these words had economic significance for a people crushed by the heavy monetary and agricultural taxes imposed by their Roman conquerors. This tax burden forced many hard-working poor to borrow from unscrupulous lenders to avoid imprisonment, or eviction from the small plots of arable land on which they depended for food. Unable to repay their lenders, many were forced to enslave themselves, or their children, to those they owed. When the first believers prayed these words, they were not asking to be forgiven for just any wrong. They were pleading for debt remission.
Among its disastrous consequences, Covid has generated a rise in debt, evictions, defaults on loans and repossessions. After the Cares Acts, an initial lifeline to those negatively impacted by Covid, the government’s concern for those at risk has been eclipsed by partisan politics. With winter just around the corner, if assistance is not forthcoming, many more will be plunged into debt and homelessness. Beyond lobbying our government leaders to declare a new moratorium on raising rent, exorbitant late fees, repossessions, and evictions, those of us who pray this prayer must do what we can as individuals, and ecclesial communities, to provide housing and material assistance to those whose circumstances have been exacerbated by Covid, and to all other victims of Covid who now find themselves drowning in debt and sliding into the pit of poverty.
And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
As humans we are vulnerable to many temptations. However, in context, this petition can be understood as a cry to be saved from indifference, whether to the plight of the neighbor impacted by Covid, or to the systemic injustices that have put so many at risk for Covid related consequences.
If our recitation of the Lord’s Prayer has become rote and mindless, words that rock us to sleep rather than incite us to act, the Covid crisis demands that we snap out of our complacency. Now is the time to partner with each other to bring about the kingdom of justice and well-being God wills for all creation. This is what we pledge to do every time we pray the Lord’s prayer. So let’s do it.
Maria Pascuzzi CSJ