The Lord’s Prayer

Matthew’s Gospel is a great place to begin to understand the Lord’s Prayer. Fr Joseph O’ Hanlon, a priest of the Nottingham Diocese, shares how Matthew’s readers and hearers are shown how to do on earth what is done in heaven.

Fr Joseph O’Hanlon

What is Matthew’s Gospel all about?

A quick look at one word in The Lord’s Prayer, the ‘Our Father’ we pray every day, will help us to an answer.

Thy Kingdom come!

That word kingdom will solve the mystery.

But first a few facts:

Fact 1: The word kingdom occurs 54 times in Matthew’s Gospel.
Fact 2: The word heaven occurs 75 times in Matthew’s Gospel.
Fact 3: Mostly the two are combined in The Kingdom of Heaven.

So what it’s all about is:




But what does The Kingdom of Heaven mean?  Is it pie in the sky?  Is it all about heaven up there?  Why do we pray in our great prayer, Thy kingdom come? Come from where? To where?  When? How? Why?

First, a fact.  St Luke uses the word “kingdom” 45 times.  But his phrase is “the kingdom of God”.  Actually, he means exactly the same as Matthew’s phrase. So there is a clue here. 

The Kingdom of Heaven
The Kingdom of God.

You see Matthew was a Jew and Luke was a non-Jew, a Gentile, a pagan before he became a Christian.  Jews were and are particularly careful about using the holy name YHWH.  So they would not say (and we should not either) “the kingdom of Yahweh”.  So Matthew, a devout Jew, uses “heaven” as a substitute for God’s holy name: the kingdom of heaven.  Luke, a Gentile writing for non-Jewish Christians, uses the kingdom of God, to convey exactly what Matthew means.  But what do they mean?

Our Father …

The prayer we say every day is given to us by St Matthew.  St Luke has a version of the prayer but his version never caught on.  It is Matthew’s version that is our familiar prayer and that version begins by explaining what he means by the kingdom of heaven. 
Just say it to yourself:

Our Father who art in Heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come!
Thy Will be done on Earth,
As it is in Heaven.

         The answer is right here:

Thy Kingdom come!
Thy Will be done on Earth!

What God wants is that his will be done on this earth by everyone God has called into being.  We pray that God’s intention in creating all that there is should be carried out.  God’s plan must become humanity’s plan.  In a world not going according to plan, we need to turn to our Gospels to discover what that plan is.  Matthew and Luke are where we must start.  But, for the whole story we must read all that there is to read in the Bible.  However, Matthew is a great place to begin.  He tells his readers and hearers how to do on earth what is done in heaven.

Fr Joseph O’Hanlon is a retired priest of the Nottingham Diocese and former Director of the International Franciscan Study Centre in Canterbury. His books include The Jesus Who Was, The Jesus Who Is, The Dance of the Merrymaker, Mark My Word, Beginning the Bible and Walk One Hour. Fr Joseph has a lifetime of experience teaching the Bible and a passion for communicating scholarship to adult Christians.