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Article Index
The ‘Our Father’ of My Childhood
The Contexts of the Story
The Historical Context of the Our Father
My Historical Context
Blending Contexts in an On-going History
Companions on the Way
The Word ‘Debt/Indebted’ in the Our Father
Main Focus on Luke 11:4
Usual Interpretation of ‘Sin’ and ‘Debt’
Larger Than Sin
Indebtedness in Jesus’ Historical Setting
Where has the Jubilee Year Gone?
Rabbi Hillel’s Prosbul
The Significance of the Word ‘Debt’
The Jubilee Year in the Lk 4:16-30
More Than Sin-Orientation: The Kingdom of God
Breaking Fixed or Petrified Perspectives
Re-reading Lk 11:4 Through Jesus’ Eyes
Re-reading Lk 11:4 Through the Eyes of an Awakened, Poor Jew
Re-reading Lk 11:4 in the Larger Context of Luke’s Gospel
Lk 18: 18-27: a Commentary on Luke’s ‘Our Father’.
Social Justice in the Larger Context of Luke-Acts
Re-reading Lk 11:4 in the Context of Acts 2 and 4
Re-reading Luke 11:4 in My Context
The Need for an Alternative Spirituality
Before We Part Ways: Time to Recharge and Refresh
As We Part
All Pages



An Alternative Reading of Luke 11:4[1]

Zacarias G. Damo, Jr.


??? ???? ???? ??? ???????? ????,

??? ??? ????? ??????? ????? ????????? ????·

(Lk 11:4)

Every perspective or point of view about life is shaped by no less than life itself as it unfolds in history. Accordingly, my convictions and insights on life’s essentials have been formed by the blending of my historical circumstances with my biblical heritage; this, moreover, has become the seedbed from which an alternative reading of the ‘Our Father’ -- Luke 11:4 particularly -- has grown. Thenceforth, I have realized the reading’s relevance to life’s challenges, especially in the Philippines, a nation that longs for salvation from dehumanizing situations. And more than sharpening my perspective, I have found the reading very meaningful for a spirituality which aims to resonate with Third World issues (so it has been in my experience, at least). What a pearl of great price; indeed, a treasure ought to be shared!

Let me begin with some overview:

The Contexts of the Story. The ‘Our Father’ is a part of Jesus’ life-story as found in Matthew and Luke. It is also about my life-story because it has been very significant to me since I was a child, and in a great deal, it has continued to shape my character and convictions. Hence, this essay is about the story of the ‘Our Father’ in an on-going history, comprising the prayer’s significance, both in Jesus’ time and in my contemporary life-situations. Any story, indeed, may be understood more meaningfully when it is seen in the light of history and its dynamics, such as the political, social, economic, cultural and religious. Similarly, the story of the ‘Our Father’ of my childhood is best understood within the context of Jesus’ historical dynamics as it dialogues with the context of my historical realities. (And lest I forget, my historical realities are also others’ historical realities. As I speak about my historical realities, therefore, I consequently speak for countless people whose voices have been muted by complex factors such as the culture of ignorance, indifference, blind obedience and fear of oppressive powers).

The Historical Context of the Our Father. The ‘Our Father’ must be seen, at least, in the context of Jesus’ historical mission for total salvation or the Kingdom of God.[2] At the outset, let me clarify a priceless treasure I found in my biblical search: salvation in the Bible is not only about redemption from sin; it is also about the eradication of other forms of evil especially poverty, oppression and injustice. Hence, biblical salvation is total; being so, it is very much at home with the so-called corporal or earthly concerns such as food for the hungry, release to the oppressed, and liberation of the poor from destitution. And when Jesus and his fellow Jews prayed for total salvation, they uttered, ‘May your Kingdom come.’ This was a petition about total well-being that takes place in history -- as distinguished from a non-biblical and inadequate understanding of salvation as merely for souls uprooted from concrete events. Biblically speaking therefore, every life-story that seeks total salvation is essentially about flesh-and-blood people, especially the awakened poor and oppressed who struggle the most for the banishment of any form of evil in history. This understanding of total salvation, indeed, was very meaningful in Jesus’ historical context which was characterized by mass poverty, oppression and injustice caused by Imperial Rome and its ally, the elite Jewish leadership.

My Historical Context. Like Jesus’ my life-journey is also about flesh-and-blood realities especially the struggle of poor and oppressed Filipinos for total salvation. In this context, I share with others a dream about a Philippines freed from evils especially mass poverty, oppression and injustice which have been significantly caused by corrupt and greedy individuals or groups who find protection in systemic structures of evil such as globalization, partisan and elitist socio-politico-economic (dis)orders, and even religious denominations that consciously or unconsciously serve the aforementioned systemic structures. Having attained a more mature understanding of life’s essentials, I cannot but hope and be inspired to work for total salvation each time I pray that part in the ‘Our Father’ which goes, “May your Kingdom come.”

Blending Contexts in an On-going History. My biblical heritage and my life situations as they blend in history constitute the wider contexts of the story and alternative reading of the ‘Our Father’ of my childhood. So far, I have discovered that my own life-journey with the prayer has significantly inspired and molded me to work (albeit in limited ways) for the transformation of history according to the Kingdom-mission of Jesus who first taught the ‘Our Father’ to his disciples two thousand years ago. Since then the prayer has been taught to generations including mine. Having learned it even before I went to school, the prayer was carved so clearly in my heart. I knew it so well that I won chocolates each time I recited it best in my elementary days. But childhood affairs have to be outgrown, though not forgotten. I had to move on beyond the motivation of chocolates in order to discover and live out the more mature and holistic challenges of the prayer. Along the way, I have found out that prayers also reflect what I must believe and ought to practice (lex orandi, lex credendi, lex agendi[3], so they say). I have realized then that the ‘Our Father’ is not only about petitions. It is also a treasure chest of wisdom that can shape my consciousness and way of life.

My understanding of the ‘Our Father’ has been always enriched and nourished in the course of my life-journey. Furthermore, as I continue to move forward and constantly search for the prayer’s dynamic and concrete meaning, I also find myself going ‘backwards’ whenever I rediscover, within my reach, the pulsating realities associated with the prayer as it was uttered in the historical circumstances of Jesus’ time. Regarding this progressive-retrospective movement or two-fold journey, I have found out that one thing which remains constant in life is the process towards integration. An authentic life-journey is not a matter of leaving the past behind. Rather, it is about discovering new things that have to blend with historical legacies. Growth then is the integration of the past and the present that shapes the future -- it is about a two-fold journey of recovery and re-contextualization that dynamically results in on-going transformation. For a Christian like me, the core of this journey, at least, lies in a meaningful dialogue between the biblical Jesus and contemporary situations, in view of promoting total salvation or the Kingdom of God.

Companions on the Way. Dear reader, you may have noticed that this essay is essentially about my life-journey, too. Allow me then a few lines about the significant influences that have shaped my Christian convictions and the alternative reading of the ‘Our Father’ of my childhood.

With me in my life-journey are co-travelers.[4] They are persons who have influenced my person and mission either in their writings or ways of life or both. It is also important to consider that I have taken a route where my significant contact or immersion with the poor who struggle to transform human affairs into humane and just ones, and my assimilation of their written as well as unwritten expressions of wisdom have been precious courses I took from and still continue to learn in the ‘University of Life.’ Life itself, I believe, is still learning par excellence so long as the student is willing to listen well to life’s best professor, God himself, who, of course, speaks through persons and events.

Now that we have mapped out the panorama of our journey, we move on to unveil the alternative reading of the ‘Our Father’ of my childhood.

The Word ‘Debt/Indebted’ in the Our Father. The ‘Our Father’ or the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ forms part of my significant childhood memories. Unfortunately, one of its essential aspects has been set aside or forgotten in the course of history. I wish to recover and re-contextualize this neglected part of the prayer in my integral growth towards total salvation. I hope others will eventually find this meaningful in their journey, too.

The forgotten part of the ‘Our Father’ of my childhood is the word ‘debt’ or ‘indebted’ in the prayer’s section which is usually referred to as the ‘we’ or ‘us’ petitions. As a child, I used to pray or sing: ‘And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors.’ However, with the modification of the prayer made by the Diocese of Laoag in 1998, which, I believe, was in conformity to the liturgical reforms implemented in the whole Northern Luzon Church as well as the entire Philippine Church, I now sing or pray: ‘And forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’

I am not familiar with the reasons why the ‘Our Father’ was modified. Be that as it may, I believe that those who revised this precious prayer had good intentions and reasons for doing so. I accepted then the modification without questions.

But now that I have grown more maturely, I have realized that when it comes to biblical or total salvation, it is simply myopic to merely talk about cleansing of sin for the soul’s redemption in heaven.[5] This is so because biblical salvation is essentially about human beings (not disembodied souls)[6], and biblical spirituality is substantially about being critical and bold against systemic structures of evil in concrete human affairs. Certainly, for victims of human rights violations, hunger, discrimination, unjust labor practices and the like, promoting conversion through confession is not enough. More has to be done. We have to tear down systemic structures of evil, and build humane and just alternatives so that victims of dehumanization may be alleviated from their miseries. It is not sufficient then to merely promote and celebrate the sacraments. Projects about authentic human development have to be seriously and significantly carried out as well.

The aforementioned realization about biblical salvation has to be given due emphasis in catechesis, preaching, classroom discussions and the like. And to make this realization more explicit in Christian consciousness, I suggest that the ‘Our Father’ be prayed again either in Matthew’s version, “And forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors” or Luke’s, “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” Obviously, I intend to appeal for the recovery of the word ‘debt’ or ‘indebted’ in the prayer. Why this is so is not yet the main focus at this point. We will devote ample space for it along our journey. It suffices to say for now that my attempt at recovery is not only about being faithful to the wording of the biblical data and to the spirit of Jesus’ message when he preached the Kingdom of God in first century Palestine. It also pertains to our present vocation as prophets confronting ‘Caesars, Pilates, Herods and Caiphases’ in our contemporary historical setting. For as we will see in detail, the word ‘debt’ or ‘indebted’ in the Lord’s prayer -- when viewed in the context of Jesus’ historical dynamics -- can speak strongly against the poverty, oppressions and injustices inflicted on the common people by the elite who monopolized power-structures and wealth for their selfish interests. Also, the aura of these social illnesses is obviously still with us today. Hence, we need to rekindle and keep ablaze the power of the word ‘debt’ or ‘indebted’ to evoke in us the prophetic spirit of Jesus as we face our own inhumane situations today, most especially that the ‘Our Father’ is one of the most well-known prayers. Being so, the ‘Our Father’ may be a good way by which Christian consciousness and spirituality may be formed and empowered to shape society according to the values of God’s Kingdom.

We then move on to recover the word ‘debt’ or ‘indebted’ in the ‘Our Father’. We start by taking note of the following considerations which, if not clarified, may pose some problems along our journey:

Main Focus on Luke 11:4. The biblical accounts on the ‘Our Father’ are found in Matthew and Luke. This essay, however, is limited on focusing mainly on a verse of Luke’s version, particularly Lk 11:4 which goes: ??? ???? ???? ??? ???????? ????, ??? ??? ????? ??????? ????? ????????? ????· (And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us).

It is most likely that the ‘Our Father’ originated from Jesus himself, an original logion or ipssissimum verbum (authentic saying) of the historical Jesus, so to speak. Compared to Matthew’s, Luke’s account is generally closer to Jesus’ original version of the prayer. Luke, nonetheless, modified the line in Lk 11:4 which may have been stated in Jesus’ time as: And forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors.” Compared to this, Luke’s version, to repeat, is: “And forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” It is obvious that Luke modified the word ‘debt’ into ‘sin’ in the first clause, but he retained the concept of ‘debt’ by using the word ‘indebted’ in the second clause.

Usual Interpretation of ‘Sin’ and ‘Debt’. Significant in our alternative reading of Lk 11:4 are some clarifications about the usual understanding associated with the words ‘sin/sinner’ and ‘debt/debtor.’ The words ‘debt’ and ‘debtor’ were used as metaphor for ‘sin’ and ‘sinner’ in the Palestinian-Aramaic milieu during the time of Jesus and the early church. The same might be true about Luke’s usage of the Greek word ????????? (opheilonti = indebted) in the ‘Our Father.’ Further, the Dead Sea or Qumran scrolls attest that the combined words ‘sin and debt’ mean ‘guilt.’ Based on these, we may say that, after all, the revision of the Our Father of my childhood should not be a major issue. It may not conform to Luke’s or Matthew’s literal wording, but is nonetheless faithful to the spirit behind the words. No wonder, many translators are unanimous in making the point more fixed and precise by translating the metaphor ‘debt’ into ‘sin’, and accordingly the metaphor ‘debtor’ into ‘sinner.’ Consider these translations of Luke 11:4, for example:

NLV (New Living Message)

And forgive us our sins—

just as we forgive those who have sinned against us.

ISV (International Standard Version)

…and forgive us our sins,

as we forgive everyone who sins against us.

NIV (New International Version)

Forgive us our sins,

for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Larger Than Sin. I don’t disagree with the aforementioned translations inasmuch as they also express a facet of truth, but I maintain that they are still inadequate to express the richer message of the prayer. I reiterate that in the historical context of Jesus, the word ‘debt’ or ‘indebted’ had a spirit, force and meaning which may not be fully captured and expressed by the word ‘sin’. Accordingly, Luke may have wanted to express a message which was not exclusive about guilt when he juxtaposed the words ‘sin’ and ‘indebted’ in the ‘Our Father.’ We’ll explore more on this later. The point now is that in Lk 11:4 we have to be open to, and be at home with a message which is larger than sin.

Moreover, in our contemporary setting in which the word ‘sin’ is usually or popularly associated with small failures such as forgetting to say prayers like the angelus while big wrongdoings like graft, corruption and ecological destruction are not consistently and significantly dealt with, or sin is mainly understood as a stain of the individual soul which must be wiped out before going to heaven, important and concrete Biblical concerns like historical (socio-politico-economic) realities are merely relegated to the margins. These ignored matters, ironically, are vital and inevitable issues of salvation especially for people in the Third World who find themselves in seemingly hopeless situations of indebtedness, oppression, injustice and poverty. I insist then on the recovery of the word ‘debt’ or ‘indebted’ in the ‘Our Father’ because it may express a message that can make us be sharply conscious about historical realities as contrasted to soul issues, as well as social spirituality in contrast to private piety. With these in mind, it is now high time to discuss more thoroughly on the historical dynamics of Jesus’ time. Doing so, we hope to understand better the significance of the concept of ‘debt’ and ‘indebtedness’ in the ‘Our Father.’

Indebtedness in Jesus’ Historical Setting. We are about to deal with a reconstructed historical scenario within which Jesus taught the spirit and message of the ‘Our Father.’ I am aware that reconstructions always fall short of bull’s eyes, but neither can I ignore the fact that it is only through a judicious use of the historical reconstructions of competent scholars that we may get a meaningful picture of Jesus’ time; needless to say, these findings are not only relevant to but are also indispensable in biblical studies. Knowing the picture of Jesus’ time, hopefully, may let us feel and understand the pain-laden yet hopeful message of the words: ‘And forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.’

The Palestine where Jesus preached was a sociologically depressed area. Not all were poor, but in a sociologically depressed area, we can accurately say that majority were destitute and heavily indebted. Consider, for instance, the following unjust and oppressive historical dynamics of Jesus’ time:

(1) Two-fold Domination – Palestine in the time of Jesus was ruled by the Romans and the Jewish elite who manipulated power-structures in order to increase their wealth and maintain control over human affairs. This meant a situation of mass poverty, oppression, injustice, etc. for the common Jews.

(2) Forced Labor among the Peasantry – Against their will, the Jews had to construct city buildings and develop the private lands of the Romans and Jewish aristocracy. Also, the amounts spent for these projects significantly came from the Jews’ tributes and sacred obligations/donations.

(3) Tributes to Rome – Annually, the Jews had to give to Rome about one third of their total year-round products (equivalent to 200 talents or 9 tons of gold; one talent was the total income which a poor Jew gained for fifteen years of labor).

(4) Temple Obligations/Donations – In addition to their tributes to Rome were the Jews’ obligations to the Temple, noteworthy of which were the annual half-shekel and tithe. Every male Jew had to contribute a half-shekel to the Temple. This was especially difficult because he had to obtain the half-shekel through exchange of his crop. The usual case was that he had to give products greater in value than that of the half-shekel. In addition every Israelite had to give a tenth (tithing) of his income to the Temple. Added to these was a list of sacred donations.

(5) The Burden of a Double Tribute System. There was a case then of double siphoning, i.e. to Rome and to the Temple. For a society deprived of sufficient resources to survive, the aforementioned double tribute system was extremely burdensome.

(6) Taxation Against All Odds. In most cases, same amounts of taxes and temple obligations were demanded despite changes in harvest conditions. Even if harvest was very scarce, one had to pay definite taxes and tributes both to Rome and to the Temple. Penalties for non-payment were severe and violent.

(7) Indebtedness and Slavery. In many occasions of scarce harvests, the Jews were forced to borrow. Often they would promise future but uncertain harvests as collaterals (and the value of collaterals would take interests as high as 100%). Hence, the Jews were pushed deeper and deeper into indebtedness which eventually resulted in the foreclosure of properties, land specially. Foreclosure of properties reduced once free people into slavery or share-cropping.

Where has the Jubilee Year Gone? One who is familiar with Jewish tradition knows well that unjust indebtedness, poverty and slavery are abhorred by the Torah.[7] These manifestations of social injustice[8] are against the will of Yahweh who desires that there shall be no poor or needy among his people (Cf Deut 15:4). No wonder, the Jubilee Year provision found in Dt. 15 prescribes the ?????????? (shemittah) or the release or cancellation of debts every Jubilee (fiftieth) Year.[9] This is to ensure that in Israel, the poor would be protected from social injustice; that all blessings must be shared equitably; and that wealth -- and the power that goes with it -- should not be monopolized by an elitist individual or group.

But amidst the Jubilee Year’s Godly and humane provisions, why did Palestine in Jesus’ time turn out to be heavily indebted resulting in horrible destitution, slavery, oppression and injustice? There had been many causal factors, especially that the Jews were subjected to long years of foreign dominion. In this essay, I wish to focus mainly on the factors within Jewish tradition, in which they the Jubilee Year could have protected the Jewish people from social injustice; yet, the provisions of the Jubilee appeared to be ineffective. We explore why this was so.

Rabbi Hillel’s Prosbul. Dt. 15:9 states that one’s refusal to lend because of the shemittah is a very serious offense. Still some if not most wealthy Jews in the time of Jesus were hesitant to lend because of the provision on cancellation of debts.

In the first century CE (Common Era) encompassing the time of Jesus’ public ministry, Rabbi Hillel instituted the prosbul which vetoed or circumvented the Jubilee Year’s provision on cancellation of debts. The prosbul was a kind of stipulation or contract in which the borrower did not raise the shemittah as defense for non-payment of loans. The prosbul’s formulation was stated as: “I declare before you, so-and-so, judges of that place, that touching any debt that I may have outstanding, I shall collect it whenever I desire” or “I, _____________, hand to you, the judges of _____________, (a declaration), to the effect that I may claim any debt due to time at whatever time I please”.

Hillel therefore violated the Torah and removed the common people’s protection from social injustice. Hillel did so in view of encouraging loans while protecting the interest of the lender.

The Significance of the Word ‘Debt’. With the prosbul, we have found at least an explanation why -- despite their Jubilee/Sabbatical Years -- the Jews suffered from indebtedness that resulted in other forms of social injustice. And heavy indebtedness was a very important concern for the Jews in Jesus’ time as well as for the rest of first century Palestine. In fact, in the Jewish revolt in 66 CE, one of the first things that the rebels did was to burn the list of debtors and their debts. This shows that the rebels did not acknowledge the legitimacy of indebtedness in the context of oppressive and unjust imperial as well as local domination.

In all the aforementioned historical background about indebtedness in Jesus’ time, we cannot just ignore the possibility that the disciples may have thought of salvation from heavy indebtedness[10] (and not just forgiveness from sin) when they learned these words from the ‘Our Father’: And forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.” We cannot simply shun this thought away most specially that Luke portrays Jesus as one whose mission was also about the social justice program of the Jubilee Year (Cf. Lk 4:16-30) which stipulates that an authentic social justice program would include the agendum of forgiving the debts of the poor. But before we discuss further on these, I deem it appropriate at this point to resolve first some problems which may arise if not clarified immediately.

The Jubilee Year in the Lk 4:16-30. Many scholars claim that Lk 4:16-30 contains the central theme of Luke and Acts. Moreover, it contains the central program of Jesus’ mission. Important to note is the fact that the core of Lk 4:16-30 lies in the quotation from Isaiah 61:1; 58:6 which is found in Lk 4:18-19:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

The year of the Lord’s favor is another name for the Jubilee Year which includes four social justice provisions, namely the release of Israelite slaves,[11] restoration of properties to impoverished Israelites, rest to the land,[12][13] and release or cancellation of the debts of poor Israelites.[14] Since Lk 4:19 mentions the Jubilee Year, we may somehow connect the forgiveness of the indebted mentioned in Luke 11:4 to the release of debts in the Jubilee Year provisions.[15] But this is not without problems. For some scholars, it is not air-tight certain that Luke really intended to refer to the Jubilee year as Jesus’ distinctive concern. This is so because they regard Luke’s quotation of the Jubilee as metaphorically referring to Jesus’ messianic mission to die on the cross for the release or forgiveness of humanity’s (or souls’) bondage to sin or indebtedness because of sin; accordingly, the word ‘indebted’ in Lk 11:4 is understood as synonymous to the word ‘sinner.’ Hence, this kind of reading -- especially when it is regarded as the only possible and correct interpretation -- cannot but tone down or obliterate the Jubilee Year’s message of social justice.

More Than Sin-Orientation: The Kingdom of God. The aforementioned interpretation of the Jubilee in relation to Jesus’ mission is obviously influenced by a perspective which considers Jesus’ mission as essentially about dying for sin. That Jesus died for our sins is correct and biblical -- Paul and John have much to say about this.[16] But Jesus’ redemptive death is neither the over-arching purpose of his mission nor is it constitutive of the whole Jesus-story. We should not overlook the fact that, biblically and historically speaking, Jesus preached the Kingdom of God which, for our purposes, may be summarized as total salvation for humans and creation; it is a new world (universe), with a new history, with justice[17] as its core, and accordingly, with the good news of justice and liberation (or social justice) for the poor at its oft-mentioned and therefore most important blessing.[18] Hence, the Kingdom of God is more than salvation from sin; it is neither for disembodied souls. It is more about life-blessings for flesh and blood people, especially the poor and oppressed. It is concerned more with the liberation of humans from poverty, oppression and injustice which have always infested human history. Also, it is about the freedom of creation from decay and destructions caused by natural forces and human exploitation.[19]

Total salvation or the Kingdom of God was the over-arching purpose of Jesus’ mission. It is the thread that binds the whole Jesus-story whose core-events are Jesus’ public ministry, his death, resurrection and parousia.[20] This may require a bit of explanation: Historically, Jesus preached the Kingdom and showed that it had already begun to come through his prophetic preaching, healings and exorcisms.[21] He was eventually crucified because his Kingdom preaching and practice made him confront and irritate oppressive and unjust power-structures and the persons behind them.[22] (It is good to remember at this point that these persons and power-structures pushed the common people in Jesus’ time to the pit of indebtedness and slavery). Yet, God vindicated Jesus’ Kingdom-practice by resurrecting him (resurrection is a Kingdom blessing).[23] And in his parousia, Jesus will usher the final realization of the Kingdom.[24]

Having realized a more panoramic biblical understanding of the Kingdom of God, I suggest that we read Lk 11:4 in the Kingdom’s wider context. It is advised that we keep this in mind as we continue.

Breaking Fixed or Petrified Perspectives. Consideration of the aforementioned discussion about the Kingdom of God may let us be sharply aware of the inevitable and indispensable significance of the socio-politico-economic character of Jesus’ mission. Bearing this in mind, we cannot but consider Luke’s mention of the Jubilee Year as expressive, at least, of a social justice program. Accordingly, this cannot but influence our reading of the word ‘indebted’ in Lk 11:4. We should not limit our reading therefore to a fixed sin-oriented perspective. The gong has sounded! It has a warning to all who have the tendency to petrify matters. Taken positively, this warning can lead us to be critically open to more balanced interpretations as well as to more appropriate points for contextualization; hence, we can avoid a kind of ‘dogmatism’ that can make us blind and deaf to pulsating life-realities.

Re-reading Lk 11:4 Through Jesus’ Eyes. Having gone this far, let us now sharpen our re-reading of Lk 11:4. Let me suggest a re-reading eyeglass: ‘Looking through the eyes of Jesus.’[25]

Jesus was a ‘Third World’ person, that is, he preached the Kingdom of God in a situation infested with ‘Third World’ issues. In this context, Jesus’ perspective about life is essentially the same as the perspective of today’s awakened poor who struggle to get out from dehumanizing situations like poverty, oppression and injustice. (It is also the perspective of someone who is not poor but has an authentic solidarity with the poor in their struggle for a humane society). Hence, for the destitute in his time, Jesus wanted justice and liberation or social justice. This is a picture of Jesus that we may glean from the gospel pages. We take the following, for example:

Lk 6:20-21

Then he looked up at his disciples and said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,

for yours is the kingdom of God.

? “Blessed are you who are hungry now,

for you will be filled.

“Blessed are you who weep now,

for you will laugh.

Lk 4:18-19

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

Luke 7:22-23

And he answered them, “Go and tell John

what you have seen and heard: the blind receive

their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed,

the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have

good news brought to them. And blessed is anyone

who takes no offense at me.”

The Greek word for poor is ?????? (ptochos) which, more accurately, means ‘poor and oppressed.’ The underlying Hebrew equivalent for ptochos is ??? (‘anah) from which we derive the words ???????? (‘anawim) or ????????? (‘aniyim). Read in context, ‘anah refers to the ‘poor and oppressed’ because of economic poverty (Cf. Ps 37:11; Ex 22:25; Lev 23:32; Dt. 15:11; Is 3:14; Jer 22:16). In Jesus’ time, ptochos referred to the beggars (Mk 10:46), casual workers (Mt. 20:1-9), tenants (cf. Mt. 21:33), slaves (Mt. 8:6), debtors (Lk 16:5), the poor of the land (Jn 7:49). To these people, Jesus pronounced blessings or good news. Accordingly, any form of blessings or good news for the poor and oppressed -- for it to be meaningful -- must at least include justice and liberation or social justice.

Looking through the eyes of Jesus (= looking through the eyes of the awakened poor), I cannot but see the connection -- in terms of social justice -- between the Jubilee Year’s provision on the cancellation of debts and the forgiveness to the indebted in the ‘Our Father’ as very meaningful and appropriate both in Jesus’ time and in the present Philippine situation and that of other Third World countries.

Re-reading Lk 11:4 Through the Eyes of an Awakened, Poor Jew. Earlier, we mentioned about a message which Luke may have wanted to convey when he juxtaposed the words, ‘sin’ and ‘indebted’ in the ‘Our Father’. We explore this thoroughly in the succeeding discussions.

In Jesus’ time, for an awakened Jew who suffered from poverty, slavery and dehumanization due to heavy indebtedness, the words, “And forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us” may have aroused these thoughts:

(i) Hillel, elite leaders and rich lenders, you ought to be converted and ask for forgiveness. Your prosbul makes you and the lenders sin against Yahweh. Through it you remove the protection of the poor; hence, you violate the Torah. Yahweh wants the poor to be liberated from all evils especially oppression, poverty, injustice and exploitation. Pressing the poor to indebtedness down to slavery through the prosbul is perpetuating social injustice which has been a great sin of our ancestors since the glorious days of the monarchy. Remember these sayings of the prophets:

Amos 2:6-8

Thus says the Lord:

For three transgressions of Israel,

and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;

because they sell the righteous for silver,

and the needy (poor) for a pair of sandals

they who trample the head of the poor

into the dust of the earth,and push the afflicted

out of the way; father and son go in to the same girl,

so that my holy name is profaned;

they lay themselves down beside every altar

on garments taken in pledge;

and in the house of their God they drink

wine bought with fines they imposed.

Micah 2:1-5

Alas for those who devise wickedness

and evil deeds on their beds!

When the morning dawns, they perform it,

because it is in their power.

They covet fields, and seize them;

houses, and take them away;

they oppress householder and house,

people and their inheritance.

(ii) Hillel, elite leaders and lenders, remember that when you ask forgiveness, you have to bring back the original practice of the Jubilee Year, especially its provision on the cancellation of the debts of the poor so that they may not be doomed to indebtedness and slavery. Forgive everyone indebted to you. Wash yourselves clean by giving justice and liberation back to the poor and oppressed. Remove then your prosbul and revive the authentic spirit of the Jubilee Year. You see, it is the practice of social justice that Yahweh wants, not your sacrifices or pompous liturgies. Again, heed these words of Yahweh through his prophet:

Isaiah 1:11-17

What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices?

says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me.

New moon and Sabbath and calling of convocation—

I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.

Your new moons and your appointed festivals

my soul hates; they have become a burden to me,

I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.

Based on the aforementioned, we may say then that in Lk 11:4, “And forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us” the message is: the condition for the forgiveness of the sins of the rich and powerful is the practice of social justice which is concretely exemplified in the Jubilee Year provision on the release, cancellation or forgiveness of the indebted of their debts. The sin referred to in here is social injustice which, in Jesus’ time, may have referred to the unjust and oppressive practices like forced labors, tributes to Rome and the Temple, and the institution of the prosbul which removed the poor people’s protection from indebtedness, poverty and slavery. Accordingly, Lk 11:4 may be paraphrased thus: ‘Forgive us our sins (of social injustice) because we are now practicing social justice (that is, we now release the poor from oppressive, unjust and impoverishing indebtedness). This interpretation fits well with Jewish prophetic tradition and also with Jewish wisdom tradition. Proverbs 14: 31, 17:5 counsels: “Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker…” Truly, oppressing the poor through circumvention of the Jubilee Year provisions is an insult and therefore a sin against Yahweh. Forgiveness of this, to repeat, requires the practice of social justice. Thus goes the alternative reading of the ‘Our Father’ of my childhood.

Re-reading Lk 11:4 in the Larger Context of Luke’s Gospel. Interestingly, the aforementioned reconstruction of what an awakened, poor Jew might have thought when he/she heard Luke’s ‘Our Father’ is solidly grounded on the larger context of Luke. We then proceed to further substantiate our alternative reading of Lk 11:4 by exploring more on Luke’s gospel.

The ‘Our Father’ was taught by Jesus within the section inclusive of Lk 9:51-24:53 which is called as the Jerusalem narrative or travel narrative because it tells the story of Jesus’ journey towards Jerusalem as well as his activities there. As in other biblical narratives, we find in the Jerusalem narrative of Luke the deep concern of Yahweh with his people especially in terms of social justice issues -- we find this concretely manifested in the stories about Jesus and important Jerusalem characters, notably the elite Jewish leadership.

The elite Jewish leaders who collaborated with the Romans resided in Jerusalem. At this point, it is important to name them. They were the chief priests, elders, scribes (or lawyers) and Pharisees. The phrase ‘chief priests and elders’ referred to the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish council that decided upon all Jewish affairs and concerns. The scribes were also called lawyers. The Pharisees, scribes/lawyers -- who, like the Sanhedrin, were considered as ‘leaders of the people’ -- often enjoyed the title, rabbi or teacher.

In the context of the Jerusalem narrative in Luke, we may say that the ‘Our Father’ was not only taught to disciples who longed for the Kingdom; it had also a radical message regarding social justice which was especially addressed to Jerusalem leaders and the rich who were stumbling blocks or hindrances to the Kingdom’s manifestation because they oppressed the poor in many ways (or caused many forms of social injustice). This message was enlightening to some (like Zacchaeus) but not to others (like the elite Jewish leaders). We follow the stories of these characters in order for us to see the emphasis of Luke on Jesus’ mission of the Kingdom of God as essentially about social justice; accordingly, we can see more clearly the significance of the alternative reading of Lk 11:4 within the larger context of Luke.

Luke 11: 42 portrays Jesus as critical of the Pharisees for their neglect of justice:

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs

of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these

you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.

Also, Luke 20:46-47 portrays Jesus as critical of the scribes because they devoured widow’s houses:

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

The widows in Israel represented the most poor and oppressed inasmuch as they had no husbands to protect them and provide for their needs. The scribes were so greedy indeed that they did not spare even the widows. Yet, ironically, they wanted to appear as religious and respectable.

The tone of the aforementioned passages sounds similar to Isaiah’s critique of the Jewish religious leaders because of their practice of social injustice (recall Is 1:11-17 above).

Luke 11: 46-48 shows Jesus’ critical stance against the lawyers (scribes):

And he said, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people

with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a

finger to ease them. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of

the prophets whom your ancestors killed. So you are witnesses

and approve of the deeds of your ancestors; for they killed them,

and you build their tombs.”

The lawyers (scribes) in Jesus’ time loaded the people with burdens hard to bear. This line cannot but remind us of the burdensome prosbul instituted by Rabbi Hillel. Also, Jesus mentions the prophets who were killed by the ancestors of the lawyers. These ancestors were the scribes who served as secretaries, finance officers, advisers to kings, teachers of the Law or jurists since the time of the monarchy (around 1000BCE or Before the Common Era). Let us remember at this point that the elite Jewish leadership (to whom these ancestors belonged) killed the prophets.

Nothing has substantially changed regarding the nature of elite Jewish leadership during Jesus’ time. No wonder Jesus called Temple authorities, that is, the Temple scribes (lawyers), the other leaders of the people and the chief priests as robbers:

Luke 19:45-47

Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him…

At this point, it is helpful to mention that in Jesus’ time, the Temple was not only a center of religion. It was also the center of politics and economic activities. It was where the elite Jewish leaders collaborated with the Romans; it was where money-changing, tax collection and trade took place. It was the center that siphoned the resources of the poor for the luxury of the Roman Empire and the elite Jewish leaders. Hence, instead of being God’s house (or house of prayer), the Temple in Jesus’ time had become a center of social injustice, or, in Jesus’ words, a den of robbers.

Because of their practice of social injustice (which, we recall, has been a great sin of Israel since the monarchy) Jesus pronounced heavy words of destruction against the elite Jewish leaders:

Luke 20:9-37

He began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, and leased it to tenants, and went to another country for a long time. When the season came, he sent a slave to the tenants in order that they might give him his share of the produce of the vineyard; but the tenants beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Next he sent another slave; that one also they beat and insulted and sent away empty-handed. And he sent still a third; this one also they wounded and threw out. Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ But when the tenants saw him, they discussed it among themselves and said, ‘This is the heir; let us kill him so that the inheritance may be ours.’ So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When they heard this, they said, “Heaven forbid!” But he looked at them and said, “What then does this text mean: ‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” When the scribes and chief priests realized that he had told this parable against them, they wanted to lay hands on him at that very hour, but they feared the people.

The aforementioned reading finds affinity with Luke 16: 19-31:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. ? And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, ?who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. ? The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. ? In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. ?He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ ? But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. ? Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ ?He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— ?for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ ? Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ ?He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ ? He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”

In the story, we find a rich man who did not practice social justice. Having realized after death that his neglect of the poor led him to torment, he wanted his five brothers to be warned so that they may not go to Hades.[26] Abraham replied that his brothers should listen to Moses and the prophets. In connection with this, it is helpful to know that the Jubilee Year can be found in the Deuteronomic or Mosaic Torah[27] whose spirit was carried out by the prophets in their teachings about social justice. Accordingly, the mention of Moses and the prophets refers to their message of social justice as condition for salvation. We explore this further in the following discussions.

Luke 18: 18-27 portrays Jesus as dialoging with a rich ruler[28] about the way of entering the Kingdom of God or attaining salvation:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.’ ” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God. Those who heard it said, “Then who can be saved?” He replied, “What is impossible for mortals is possible for God.”

This passage, when read carefully, brings out perfectly the message of our alternative reading of Luke 11:4. Note well that eternal life and salvation, in the context of the passage, are synonymous to the Kingdom of God. Regarding the question about the way to enter the Kingdom, (or to be saved, or to enter eternal life) Jesus, in reply, required the rich ruler to distribute his wealth to the poor. This means that if ever he practiced the prosbul, the rich ruler should cease to enforce it so that social justice may be served. In this way, he could alleviate the poor from poverty. And yes, even if the rich ruler did not practice the prosbul, Jesus exhorted him to radically share his money. This shows Jesus’ strong concern about the Kingdom value of social justice. Seeing the rich ruler saddened after hearing the challenge, Jesus remarked that it is very hard for the rich to enter the Kingdom.

Lk 18: 18-27: a Commentary on Luke’s ‘Our Father’. At this point, let us sharpen an insight: we may also say that Lk 18: 18-27 is a commentary on Luke’s ‘Our Father’. Why? We remember that in our alternative reading of Luke 11:4, the sin referred to is social injustice and the condition for its forgiveness is the practice of social justice, which is concretely done when the poor are forgiven or released from oppressive indebtedness (or any form of social injustice). We hear the echo of the alternative reading reverberating in Jesus’ challenge to the rich who wanted to enter into the Kingdom. How? When Jesus said that there is one thing lacking in the rich ruler’s practice of his religion, Jesus in fact meant that the rich ruler had failed to do something; the rich ruler sinned because he missed or neglected to do what he ought to do. Interestingly, the Greek word for sin, which is ??????? (hamartia), also means ‘missing the mark’ or ‘neglect of duty.’ We may paraphrase Jesus’ challenge thus: “Don’t you know that it is sinful to accumulate wealth while many are oppressed and destitute? So, if you want to enter the Kingdom, repent of your sin of social injustice and be converted by practicing social justice. Distribute then your wealth to the poor. In so doing, you can worthily ask God: “And forgive me of my sins, for I myself forgive everyone indebted to me.”


Contrary to the story of the rich ruler is the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19:1-10:

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.”

Zacchaeus was a chief tax collector. He was an official who saw to it that oppressive tributes were collected accordingly. Soldiers were with him to ensure that everybody paid tribute against all odds. Zacchaeus therefore was very instrumental in the poor Jews’ situation of heavy indebtedness that resulted in their slavery.

But Zacchaeus listened to and obeyed the message of Jesus. He promised to give justice back to those whom he cheated. Also, he was very willing to radically share his wealth with the poor. He was willing to practice social justice. Because of this, Jesus pronounced salvation for Zacchaeus, which, in effect means that Zacchaeus was worthy to enter into the Kingdom of God or eternal life.

Like in the story of the rich ruler, we find in the story of Zacchaeus a very meaningful commentary on Luke’s ‘Our Father.’ Zacchaeus was saved, that is, he was worthy of the Kingdom because his sins of social injustice (fraudulent tax collection causing poor people’s indebtedness) were forgiven; this was so because Zacchaeus practiced social justice by giving back to those whom he cheated and by radically sharing his wealth with the poor.

Social Justice in the Larger Context of Luke-Acts. Scholars generally agree that Luke is the first part of a larger work. The second part is the Acts of the Apostles. Remarkable to note in these works is the fact that the Greek word for ‘poor and oppressed’ which is ?????? (ptochos) was used by Luke 10 times in his gospel (5 times in Matthew, 5 times in Mark and 4 times in John), but was never used in Acts. A synonym for ptochos which is ?????? (endes, meaning ‘needy’) is found only once in Acts.

There’s a beautiful explanation for the aforementioned philological observation: In Luke, we find Jesus’ prophetic exhortation about social justice. The early Christian community in Acts concretely lived out such exhortation resulting in a community of fellowship and radical sharing in which nobody was poor or in need. This kind of community life was not only the early Christians’ response to Jesus’ prophetic preaching; it was also an act of obedience to Yahweh who, as mentioned earlier, desires that no one among his people should be poor or needy (Cf. Dt 15:4).

Acts 2:43-47

Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

Acts 4:32-37

Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common. With great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. There was a Levite, a native of Cyprus, Joseph, to whom the apostles gave the name Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Re-reading Lk 11:4 in the Context of Acts 2 and 4. In the aforementioned passages in Acts, the practice of social justice through radical sharing is emphasized. In Acts 2 the concept of salvation is mentioned, and it is in the context of social justice (in the form of radical sharing) that salvation takes place. This reminds us again of the alternative reading of Lk 11:4. In a community where radical sharing is practiced, the sin of social injustice cannot but be forgiven; accordingly, the community has realized (to a certain degree) the Kingdom of God or salvation in their present situation.

At this point in our re-reading, let us look at the whole ‘Our Father’ of Luke in view of discovering another insight:

Luke 11: 2-4

Father, hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come.

Give us each day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins,

for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.

And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

First, we remember the following points: The ‘Our Father’ is a petition for the coming of the Kingdom, or our petition to be saved or to enter into eternal life; the condition for our entry is the practice of social justice (or the eradication of poverty, injustice and oppression). Keeping these in mind, we may see that the petition for the daily bread in the ‘Our Father’ has a meaningful connection to the radical sharing practiced in Acts 2 and 4, and the merit of salvation that results from it. ‘Give us each day our daily bread’ has a message about social justice (radical sharing) as condition for entry into the Kingdom of God; it is an especial reminder to the wealthy that they are God’s instruments who should take care of the destitute who cry out to God for their daily needs. Doing so, salvation or the Kingdom of God may be realized in their midst. Of course, this will merit their final or definitive salvation in the end times.

Re-reading Luke 11:4 in My Context. After going through a long journey of recovering the significance of the word ‘debt/indebted’ in the ‘Our Father’ which, hopefully, has resulted in a clearer view of the prayer’s message on social justice, it is now high time to look at the present Philippine scenario. Compared to the situation in Jesus’ time, I believe that nothing is significantly different about the Philippines as regards poverty, oppression and injustice, and yes, even indebtedness. We now have different historical circumstances, of course, but the aura of the historical evil of social injustice has never left us as evidenced by the following data provided by the recently published New National Catechetical Directory for the Philippines (NNCDP):

#23. The Philippines is part of the “two-thirds world” (the group of poor people who comprise two-thirds of the world’s population). Around 39% of Filipinos have per capita incomes below the poverty threshold. Unemployment rates hovered around 9% to 11% over 1991-2000, with Metro Manila averaging 12% to 18%. This indicates the significant migration from provinces to key cities. Squatters account for about 30% of the country’s urban population.

Like the rest of the two-thirds world, the Philippines strives to attain stability and sustainable development. Its economic policies continue to strongly favor free enterprise, free trade, globalization, and foreign investments as major engines of growth. But the national growth in recent years has been clearly unbalanced and has failed to benefit the poor. While the GDP continues to grow, its positive impact has not trickled down to the lower socio-economic income groups.

Further, the 2005 Alay Kapwa Facilitator’s guide of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) claims that the Philippines is in crisis both economically and politically. From 1993 to 2003, we had an annual deficit amounting to PhP 150-200 billion. One cause of the crisis is debt servicing in which an estimated PhP 400-600 billion or 40% of the yearly national budget serves as payment for debts. Regarding this, it is very disgusting to know that some of the aforementioned debts have been onerous, that is, they went straight to the pockets of corrupt leaders or were simply wasted in white elephants like the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant.

We note the fact that the economic and political programs of the government have failed to benefit the poor. We recall that this failure is a sin of social injustice which Yahweh, Jesus and the prophets abhorred and condemned. It is the sin which we are reminded to repent of and be converted from each time we pray Luke’s ‘Our Father.’

It is very significant and pertinent to note also that one of the predicaments of Philippine society today is heavy indebtedness marked with the blood-stains of social injustice. While we generally claim that we, as a country, are heavily indebted, it is very sad to note that it is the poor majority who suffer while the rich and powerful (many of whom are leaders) continue to live luxuriously.

Regarding Philippine leadership, the NNCDP has the following to say:

#27. Despite the laudable efforts of many honest politicians and civil servants, the political situation is burdened by much graft and corruption, dishonest elections, and the dominance of partisan and self-centered interests over the common good.

The 2005 Alay Kapwa, basing from World Bank studies, claims that PhP 160-200 billion goes to corruption yearly.

The 2006 Alay Kapwa has the following to add:

Our system of governance, including its laws, social policies and programs, tend to promote mentalities of competition, corruption, commercialization, manipulation and possession…

(yet) we glorify…the crooks, hustlers, proud, conceits many of whom occupy key positions in government and private institutions.

The aforementioned remarks of the catechetical directory and Alay Kapwa cannot but remind us of the stern warning of Jesus to Jerusalem leaders and rich oppressors. Be that as it may, we have hopes in many Philippine leaders who are enlightened like Zacchaeus. But since the forces of those who perpetuate social injustice seem to overpower the good ones, the social justice message of the ‘Our Father’ should continue to ring loudly and persistently for Philippine leaders to listen to. Also, it should remind us to be empowered and move significantly for the uprooting of all forms of evil from our beloved Mother Land.

The last remark of Alay Kapwa is worth pondering upon. Instead of being prophets, many of us glorify the leadership that promotes social injustice. The Philippine Church, indeed, needs a significant degree of awakening and conversion. We cannot just be blind and mute about the truth. More so, we ought not to side with and glorify corrupt and oppressive leaders, whatever our personal reasons or affinities might be. Gone should be the days when religions had to provide protection and legitimization to power structures that enslaved the common people.

The Need for an Alternative Spirituality. In our Third World, Philippine situation, we should be inspired by Jesus. We have to think, feel, act and see life as Jesus did. Like Jesus, we ought to speak more about social justice. Like Jesus, we must exert more effort in social action apostolate and other works for human development. Like Jesus, our prophetic stance should be translated into works of liberation from all forms of evil in human affairs. How to carry this out in actual life deserves a separate treatment which is beyond this essay’s scope. Be that as it may, it is already a big leap for us to have realized that the mission of the biblical Jesus is more than our common sin-soul-heaven oriented spirituality. We need an alternative spirituality that can address the pain-laden concerns of the poor and oppressed. And this alternative spirituality may happen in us if we listen well to the message of social justice that is voiced out by Luke’s ‘Our Father.’

Before We Part Ways: Time to Recharge and Refresh. The journey, with all its heaviness and negativities, may have caused us exhaustion at this point. We need to recharge and refresh. One of my best ways to do this is praying or connecting with the energy source: God himself. I do this through a form of Asian meditation which is called as silent awareness. The method is simple: I just sit and watch my breath until I simply behold everything around and within me in a very relaxed manner -- it is then that I feel inner peace: not disturbed by worrisome feelings and thoughts…just silently contemplating the Divine…simply but profoundly enjoying a presence to Presence experience… so then I am certain that I would enjoy God’s refreshing embrace. This is another pearl of great price which I would like to share, especially because living a spirituality for social justice is most stressing and burn out prone.

As we pray or connect, it is fitting to note that Luke’s ‘Our Father’, the prayer Jesus taught us, is very short. As the only prayer he taught, Jesus may have uttered it in his night-long prayer (Cf. Lk 6:12). But the shortness of the prayer is largely incommensurate to the length of prayer-time spent by Jesus. And he could have not just spent the whole night uttering the ‘Our Father’ repeatedly -- while doing so may have been possible, we may not however describe Jesus as having done it because, in praying, Jesus himself counseled about not using too many words (Cf. Mt 6:7). So, what else could have Jesus’ way of praying other than that which is suited to the serenity of the night? Yes, Jesus connected to his Father in silent awareness (no words, no thoughts, just centered, just aware)…so must we who continue Jesus’ Kingdom mission today.

As We Part. Recharged and refreshed, it is time again for us to continue in our communal and personal journeys. I wish to thank you, then, dear reader, for allowing me to share the story and alternative reading of the ‘Our Father’ of my childhood. I hope that by now, you have already realized that it is not just my story or a Jesus-story or a biblical story. It is rather ours to share and live out as a community inspired by Jesus, especially in the Third World context we belong to.

Maraming Salamat Po.



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Russel, D.S. Between the Testaments. London: SCM Press Ltd. .

Segundo, Juan Luis. “Faith and Ideologies in Biblical Revelation.” The Bible and Liberation: Political and Social Hermeneutics. Ed. Norman Gottwald and Richard Horsley. Maryknoll, Orbis Books. 1993.

Sugirtharajah, R.S. Asian Biblical Hermeneutics and Postcolonialism: Contesting the Interpretations. New York: Orbis, 1998.

Wright, N.T. The Challenge of Jesus. London: Holy Trinity Church, 2000.

B. Journals/Pamphlets:

Abesamis, Carlos H. “What is Inside the Wooden Bowl? Ano Po and Laman ng Mangkok?: How (Not) to Move Towards A Contextual Theology” Manila: Socio-Pastoral Institute (1997).

Cosalan, Andres. “From Poverty to Koinonia: A Study in Luke and Acts” Know. Vol. V, No. 2, Sept-Oct (1996).

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. “The Eucharist: Light and Life of the Filipino.” Alay Kapwa Facilitator’s Guide. (2005).

__________________. “Integridad: Hamon sa Simbahan at sa Sambayanang Pilipino.” Alay Kapwa Facilitator’s Guide. (2007).

Pontifical Biblical Commission. “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church.” Origins 23/29 (1994).

C. Internet/Program References:

Edersheim, A. 2003. The Temple, Its Ministry and Services as They Were at the Time of Jesus Christ. Logos Research Systems, Inc.: Bellingham, WA.

Kittel, G., Friedrich, G., & Bromiley, G. W. 1995, c1985. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. (electronic ed.) W.B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, Mich.

[1] This paper’s exegetical and theological foundations were perused and approved by Sr. Miriam R. Alejandrino, OSB. Sr. Miriam finished her Licentiate in Sacred Scriptures (SSL) at the Pontifical Biblical Institute, Rome, and her Doctorate in Sacred Theology (Biblical Theology) at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome. Also, this paper’s philosophical foundations were perused and approved by Rev. Liberato O. Ortega. Father Liber finished his Licentiate in Philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome.


[2] Cf. Mk 1:14-15. Biblically speaking, salvation is synonymous to the Kingdom of God. It is helpful to keep this in mind for now. Its biblical foundations will be made clearer as we go on.


[3] The law of prayer is the law of belief and the law of action. We express in prayer what we believe, and these ought to be the basis of our actions.

[4]Let me introduce my companions on the journey: Carlos H. Abesamis, SJ, my mentor, has inspired and taught me to look at Jesus and his mission, the Bible and life itself according to the awakened, struggling poor people’s perspective. This tool (or way of reading) – the so called ‘third look’— is mainly employed in this essay; moreover, Father Carl’s insights are used as primary sources. I also relied on either the pertinent researches of the following professors and scholars or their ways of using some methods and tools for Biblical interpretation, or both: Maria Anicia Co, RVM, Andy Cosalan, Miriam Alejandrino, OSB, Anthony Ceresko, OSFS, Bp. Broderick Pabillo, Herman Hendrickx, CICM, N.T. Wright, Richard Horsley, Norman Gottwald, Juan Luis Segundo, D.S. Russel, Helmer Ringgren, Elizabeth Shussler Fiorenza, Neil Asher Silberman, John Hansen, Manfred Davidmann, Emanuel Quint, A. Edersheim, John Meier, Raymond Brown, Marcus Borg, Marius Reiser, John Dominic Crossan, Ched Myers, R. S. Sugirtharajah, John Miller, Sean Freyne, Jose Miguez Bonino, Joseph Kudasiewicks, Raymond Martin, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and the people behind the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT), the Logos Scholar’s Electronic Library (Libronix), the New National Catechetical Directory for the Philippines (NNCDP), the Alay Kapwa modules of the National Secretariat for Social Action (NASSA) and the different Bible Translations, of which the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) was mainly used. My apology for not acknowledging these people’s works in detailed footnoting. Their works that I used, nonetheless, are mentioned in this essay’s bibliography.

[5] Salvation of the soul in heaven means that essentially, salvation is a-historical or outside human history.

[6] For Jesus and his culture, the human being is not a dualism of body and soul. He/she is rather a mono-entity, i.e. he/she is plainly a person indivisible and irreducible to dualistic categories. Dualism, of course, has become a part of Christian tradition because of the influence of Graeco-Roman philosophy and Western theology. Be that as it may, we should be aware of the fact that Jesus and his fellow Jews did not speak about dualism. Keeping this in mind may significantly shape our perspective about the essentials of biblical religion, especially those that are pertinent to this essay. I hope this will become clearer in the course of the journey.


[7] Law or Instruction; the group of books from Genesis through Deuteronomy containing the religio-civil constitution and legal corpus of Israel.


[8] At this point, we make our terminology more precise. You may have noticed, dear reader, that I have been grouping the words ‘poverty, oppression, indebtedness, slavery and injustice.’ I did so because they belong to a category. Such words are major manifestations of social injustice, that is, the absence of justice and liberation in society, both in Jesus’ time and in our contemporary setting. (Of course, the terms ‘justice and liberation’ or ‘social justice’ are not used in the Bible, but what they mean is essentially the same as the biblical ‘good news to the poor.’) The opposite of social injustice is, of course, social justice. There is social justice only when the aforementioned manifestations of social injustice no longer exist in society (or when, at least, they have become significantly isolated, tolerable and minimal cases due to society’s inevitable imperfection). But in a Third World situation where social injustice is massive, widespread, contagious and scandalous, we cannot and should not regard social injustice as normal or usual in human affairs. Awareness of this ought to move us to act and make the promotion of social justice as priority in our ministries.


[9] This is also a Sabbatical or seventh year provision.

[10] Heavy indebtedness, as earlier mentioned, was a major manifestation of social injustice in Jesus’ time. Social injustice was a very important concern for the Jews. They longed to be saved from it each time they prayed, “May your Kingdom come.” In re-reading the ‘Our Father’, Lk 11:4 in particular, we keep in mind that the word ‘indebted’ functions in an especial way, that is, in the context of Lk 11:4, it may be understood as representing social injustice. This understanding may pave way for the prayer’s meaningful contextualization in Third World situations. This will be made clearer as we proceed.


[11] Cf. Lv 25:10, 39-41.

[12] Cf. Lv 25: 10, 14, 25, 27, 41.

[13] Cf. Lv 25: 11.

[14] Cf. Dt. 15: 1-2.

[15] The Greek ?????? (aphesis), which is used in Lk 4:18-19, Lk 11:4 and Dt 15:2 in the Septuagint (or the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible) may be translated as ‘release’ or ‘forgiveness.’

[16] Cf. 1 Jn 2:4; 1 Cor 15:3 for example.

[17] Cf. 2 Pet 3:13; Is 65: 17-25; Rev 21:1-5.

[18] Cf. Mt. 11:2-6 = Lk 7:18-23; Lk 4:16-21; Lk 6:20 = Mt. 5:3.

[19] Cf. Rom 8:19-23.

[20] Literally ‘coming again’ (of Jesus); more popularly called as ‘second coming.’

[21] Cf. Lk 11:20 = Mt 12:28.

[22] Cf. Mk 11:15-19.

[23] Cf. Acts 10:39-41.

[24] Cf. 1 Thess 3:13; Lk 21:25-28

[25] Earlier, we mentioned about the third look, which, to repeat is the way how the poor look at Jesus and his mission. The third look is similar to the way how Jesus looked at himself and his mission. We call this perspective of Jesus as the ‘first look.’ (The ‘second look’ is the way how Christians look at Jesus and his mission according to Graeco-Roman philosophy and Western theology, example of which is the dualistic point of view about the human being we encountered earlier.)


[26] Hades is a Greek word; its equivalent in Hebrew is sheol, which, in the Old Testament times, meant the underworld where the dead, as shadows, dwelt. Later, in the period between the Old Testament and New Testament (the so-called Intertestamental Judaism) sheol was understood as a place for the wicked only; still later, near the New Testament and within New Testament times, Sheol developed and took a meaning associated with gehenna or ge hinnom (valley of Hinnom). Hinnom was a city garbage dump where fire and worms thrived. Hinnom then is figuratively used to refer to a place of torment where the wicked went after death. In Lk 16:19-21, it is this place of torment which Hades refers to. And in the story, we glean that it is the sin of social injustice which can lead one to Hades.


[27] This refers to Dt 5-28 where Moses is portrayed as rehearsing or repeating the Covenant Law. This section of Deuteronomy -- where we find Dt. 15 (and in which we also find the Jubilee/Sabbatical provision on the cancellation of debts) -- is filled with social justice pronouncements; we see in the Deuteronomic or Mosaic Torah an affinity with the OT prophets’ strong concern on social justice.


[28] Remember the elite Jewish leaders. The rich ruler here is one of these.


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