He urged us to call Him ‘Father’

Adam Harbinson
Adam Harbinson

You might know the story of the old couple from Tyrone who had been married for 60 years and who were interviewed on the RTE Gay Byrne show some years ago.

Everyone wanted to know the secret oftheir long and happy relationship.

The old fellow began by telling something of life in 1930s rural Ulster. There was no wedding reception, no wedding cars and certainly no honeymoon as we would understand it.

He explained that the small wedding party had a few drinks and a bowl of stew in the village pub, their wedding car was a donkey and cart borrowed from a local crofter and the honeymoon suite was a tine cottage loaned to them for the weekend, a mile or so out of the village of Pomeroy.

When the festivities were over, Joe and Mary climbed on board the little cart and set off towards their honeymoon suite and a new life. But half-a-mile up the road the donkey stopped and stubbornly refused to move another step. Joe jumped off the cart, hurled a tirade of expletives at the offending animal and then gave it a very hard kick in the ribs, ending his stream of verbal abuse with the warning: ‘Donkey! That’s once.’

And off they trotted.

However, after another half-mile or so the donkey stopped again. This time Joe didn’t open his mouth. He jumped down from the cart, pulled a loaded pistol from his pocket and shot the animal dead.

Now it was Mary’s turn to show her outrage. Pounding her new man with tiny clenched fists, she gave himdog’s abuse: ‘You horrible, cruel man! How could you be so wicked...’ to which Joe’s reply was, ‘Mary! That’s once.’

The moral to the story is this: while their relationship was intact after over half-a-century, it was a relationship based on fear, not love.

Depending on the version of the Bible you read, there can be as many as 365 occasions where the words: ‘Do not be afraid’ occur. Now bearing in mind that there is a ‘Do not be afraid’ for every day of the year, that should tell us something about the nature of the relationship between humanity and God.

It was so based on fear that only the priest was allowed to use his name, and that only once a year in the temple. As Richard Rohr says: ‘...for most of human history, God was not a likeable, much less a loveable, character.’

That’s what Jesus came to change, and it’s why the religious leaders of his day could not bear having him around the place. They were so afraid of God that they wouldn’t even say his name: Jehovah,.

But Jesus was so familiar with their fearful God that he called him ‘Abba’, the Aramaic word for ‘daddy’ and he encourages us to do the same. The opening words in what we now refer to as The Lord’s Prayer are: ‘Our Father...’

And that’s the word Jesus used – Daddy; protector, nourisher, upholder.

Maybe next week I’ll tell you about the shortest and the most life-changing sermon I ever heard: John 15:9 – ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.’

Adam welcomes Times readers’ comments on his columns through his email address: adamharbinson@gmail.com