On a recent visit to the doctor, I was quite surprised by physician’s attire. I was expecting to see a well-groomed physician with a shirt and tie under his clean white coat and a stethoscope around his neck. Instead, he was going for the more casual look: sandals, button down short-sleeve shirt, and a unique hair style (to say the least). The first words out of his mouth were: “Hi, I’m Dr. so-and-so.” From his attire I was just expecting a first name with no title. But that is what made the whole situation odd. Here is a man providing for my health in a way that I cannot do on my own. And, yet, his attire is not at all different from the average person going to a coffee shop.
Perhaps he is not entirely to be blamed for blurring the lines of the physician-patient relationship by his choice in attire. I think our society desires to question the lines on relationships with authority. It isn’t rare to find patients who want their physician to be their friend before being an authoritative figure. Furthermore, there is a push in education for professors to arrange their office in such a way that breaks down the barrier between the teacher and the student. They claim the boundary of a desk between the teacher and student is too formal and rigid. These boundaries prevent the student from opening up and, thus, inhibit the intellectual dialogue in the learning process. While I do not intend to say there is no truth in these arguments, nor do I advocate elitism, it does raise an interesting question. To what extent should authority figures maintain a certain distance or reserve, and to what extend should they portray themselves as ordinary?
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus addresses the same question in regards to our relationship with God. The disciples ask how we ought to approach the Being who created us. Jesus replies, “When you pray, say: Father…” (Lk 11:2). Christ does not insist we begin the prayer by saying “God,” for that does not imply a personal relationship. Instead, calling God “Father” immediately establishes us in relation to God. He is God our Father, and we are His children by adoption.
The parent-child relationship is neither one of total equality nor one of pure authoritarianism. It is one of love. The child runs to his parent knowing the parent will provide for his needs, guide him, and be a model for him. So much so that it is impossible not to notice children imitating their parents both consciously and unconsciously. In a similar manner, Christ teaches us to approach God. By living the Christian life, we both consciously and unconsciously begin to be like Him.
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his commentary on this Gospel’s parallel passage in Matthew, notes that this is not the only thing we learn in the use of the word “Father.” It also illustrates how God views us. St. Thomas writes, “For if He is a father, He wants what is useful for his children.” We see this around us when a father encourages his children in worthy endeavors, provides for what he deems necessary for their upbringing, and corrects action that is not fitting. Ultimately, the father does everything he can to shape his children into becoming who they are called to be. And it is for this reason that it is appropriate to begin with “Father”. For “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
Image: Max Liebermann, The Surgeon, Ferdinand Sauerbruch