Over the summer, our faith community has been making its way through what is commonly known as the Lord's Prayer. This week we looked at the phrase: "give us this day our daily bread." At first glance, it reads like a simple request for God to grant supplicants food for the day, but there is a lot packed into these these few words.
BREAD: The Greek work here is artos, meaning leavened, regular bread. In this particular context, it is used as a synecdoche, a word which names a small thing, a part, but actually refers to the whole, to something much greater than its literal meaning. Like saying "wheels" when referring to a car or saying "hired hand" when meaning much more than just someone's hand, bread here is not just a loaf of baked dough. It is a meal (to break bread with someone is to share a meal). It is shorthand for sustaining food (bread is considered a staple). It is provision (to take bread for the journey means to take provisions, see Genesis 45:23). Bread is what keeps the body alive.
Bread also carries significance in worship. In the Ancient Near East, food was set before pagan gods every day and consumed, usually by fire. In contrast, the tabernacle dedicated to YHWH included twelve loaves (representing the twelve tribes of Israel) placed on the table of presence once a week (table of shewbread in the KJV, see Exodus 25:23-20, Leviticus 24:5-9). This bread was then eaten by the priests when it was replaced. In the worship of YHWH, bread was a sign of provision and presence, not a sacrifice required to placate or satisfy a deity.
DAILY: The word daily (epiousious) means for the next day, necessary, sufficient, or appropriate to what is coming. The phrase "daily bread" could be translated as "bread that fits the unique demands of the coming day."
In Exodus 16, we find a story about newly-freed Hebrew slaves who received bread (in the form of manna, a flaky substance which appeared on the ground each morning) as a daily, divine provision while they wandered in the wilderness. Each day the people received exactly what they needed for that day. They were not to be greedy, taking more than they needed, and not to be anxious about whether or not there would be food tomorrow. Each day, the Lord God supplied exactly what they needed. If they took more than their daily supply, if they hoarded any of it, the extra manna began to rot and became home to worms. However, on the sixth day, they were to collect enough for two days because the seventh day was a day set aside for rest. The daily manna was a sign of YHWH's presence and provision. The day of rest was a direct contrast to the harsh conditions they lived under as slaves.
Manna was a sign of freedom, sufficient provision from a gracious and compassionate God instead of skimpy rations from a demanding taskmaster. Daily bread was not only provision; it was also a means whereby the people could learn to eschew anxiety and greed.
Until recently, people did not have a reliable, sustainable food supply. In parts of the world, this is still the case, and people live very much day to day. During especially hard times in Europe, families were known to lock up their bread because there was never enough and it was a precious commodity. Daily bread is something we tend to take for granted in our wealthy, Western context, but this phrase in the Lord's prayer reminds us that a humble appeal for daily provision is not context-specific. Jesus, the Son of God, who had all the resources of heaven at his disposal, invited his disciples to pray with him as he requested daily provision from his Father.
GIVE US: The verb "give" reminds us that daily bread is a gift, not something we acquire through our own efforts or hard work. The request is also communal. Jesus invites us to pray "give us" and not "give me." Here, Jesus is praying with and for his disciples, so when we pray this prayer, we are also praying together with a community. We are asking God for provision which is much larger than our own personal needs, but extends to the needs of those in our family, our community, our nation, even our world. As the story of manna illustrates, our part is to ask for and receive daily provision. God's part is to hear our requests and provide what is necessary, what is sufficient, what is appropriate.
Jesus frequently fed people, especially the crowds who followed him around to see what he was all about. He had compassion on those who were hungry and in need of daily provision. But he was also offering more than just food. In John 6, Jesus addresses the hunger of the crowd.
Jesus: I tell you the truth—you are tracking Me down because I fed you, not because you saw signs from God. Don't spend your life chasing food that spoils and rots. Instead, seek the food that lasts into all the ages and comes from the Son of Man, the One on whom God the Father has placed His seal.
Crowd: What do we have to do to accomplish the Father's works?
Jesus: If you want to do God's work, then believe in the One He sent.
Crowd: Can You show us a miraculous sign? Something spectacular? If we see something like that, it will help us to believe. Our fathers ate manna when they wandered in the desert. The Hebrew Scriptures say, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat."
Jesus: I tell you the truth: Moses did not give you bread from heaven; it is My Father who offers you true bread from heaven. The bread of God comes down out of heaven and breathes life into the cosmos.
Crowd: Master, we want a boundless supply of this bread.
Jesus: I am the bread that gives life. If you come to My table and eat, you will never go hungry. Believe in Me, and you will never go thirsty. Here I am standing in front of you, and still you don't believe. (John 6, The Voice)
Jesus, our daily bread, is always in front of us. He is our provision for each moment, all we need to live and be satisfied. In the ingesting of the Eucharist, we enact this: Jesus is our food, our sustaining bread, our lifeblood. Like the manna in the wilderness and the showbread in the tabernacle, he is the embodiment of the presence and provision of YHWH.
Give us this day our daily bread, Lord. And help us to receive you.
Image from cbc.ca