The Lord’s prayer – give us today, our daily bread

Exodus 16:1-8 & 13-15
Matthew 14: 13-21

If you’ve ever found yourself thinking that Christianity is about the spiritual, about some sort of private relationship with God, considering heavenly things, then you soon discover this doesn’t work when you ask God to give us our daily bread. This is nitty gritty. This is a daily reminder that our lives, like our bread, are gifts from God. Daily we’re dependent upon God. Just like the Hebrews in the wilderness, who would have starved had not God sent the gift of manna, so we would perish were it not for the daily, mundane, essential gifts of God. This is why we ask God for daily bread.

In the middle of all the talk about heaven and God, the prayer now reminds us that we’re ordinary people, who need food to eat, and this prayer reminds us that it’s God’s gift to us. As we heard in our gospel reading, Jesus fed a hungry crowd. In those days, the people following Jesus would have been expecting their messiah to be someone who fed the hungry, and the in the kingdom of God surely the hungry are fed.

St. Augustine said something to the effect that, when the priest prays before the bread on the altar, it’s not that the priest is saying that, by virtue of the prayer, that the ordinary bread is now transformed into something strange and extraordinary, but that in praying the Prayer of Thanksgiving at the altar, the priest acknowledges bread as a gift of a loving God and therefore that it’s holy. Someone participating in that prayer might think that the bread on the altar looks suspiciously like the bread that they had for breakfast that morning, which wasn’t holy; but at breakfast they didn’t think of that bread as holy. And the church is saying that’s the point, and after praying over bread at church on Sunday, perhaps you will eat your bread differently on Monday.

When we share bread around this table, God is uniting us with each another in a special way. We call this a mystery, not because by this meal our intelligence is confounded, but because the more we understand God’s unrelenting love, which is embodied and made manifest in this meal, the deeper the mystery such love evokes. The table, a loaf of bread, becomes an expression of the way our Lord has intruded upon the world, claiming it as his own. If you’re wondering what I’m getting at, cast your mind to the story of the road to Emmaus. When we want to meet God, we don’t need to go up a high mountain or to rummage around in our psyches, or to hold hands and close our eyes. When we gather and break bread in Jesus’ name, that’s where he has chosen to meet us, that’s where our eyes are opened and we recognise him.

So, when we pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” it’s not just a survival strategy. In praying for daily bread, I suggest we’re praying for the daily presence of God among us. Although we pray for daily bread, a more accurate translation might “enough”. To pray for more would tempt us to try to live as if we were other than those who live only by the will and working of a gracious God. When manna was given in the wilderness, the Hebrews were permitted to gather only as much as they needed for each day.

A group of students were spending a week at a Trappist monastery. Trappists are largely silent. At the evening meal, enjoying in silence the wonderful, delicious bread, one of the students blurted out, “Did we make this bread, or did somebody give it to us?” One of the monks answered, “Yes.” We live in a society that abhors dependence upon God or indeed anyone else. Yet every time we ask God for bread, we’re acknowledging not only our dependence upon God but also our dependence on other people. No bread comes to our table without the work, the sacrifice, and the gifts of strangers whom we do not know, and cannot thank. Our society teaches us to attempt to be self-sufficient, autonomous, standing on our own two feet. So, the Lord’s Prayer is against our natural inclinations.

So, I suppose that the prayer ought to move us towards realising that most of us don’t think much about daily bread because, for most of us bread is not a problem. Most of us perish from too much bread rather than too little. A woman in a little village in Honduras, who trudges up the mountain each day to gather and then carry down the mountain the sticks for her cooking fire; who then goes back up the mountain to fetch water for cooking the food; who then grinds the corn her husband has raised, cherishing every kernel, hoping that this season’s corn will last through the winter; who makes the tortillas in the palm of her hand, and feeds them one-by-one to her children, the only food they will have that day to fill their aching stomachs. That woman undoubtedly prays, “Give us this day our daily bread” differently from the way that you and I pray that. For me, at least, I ought to pray for the grace to be able to say, “give us the grace to know when enough is enough.”

Centuries ago, Gregory of Nyssa noted the wonder that, in the Lord’s Prayer, when we consider all that we need, the only thing we are permitted to ask for is something so basic as bread. Not money or possessions, not a prominent position, monuments or statues. Only bread.

It’s also worth remembering the word “our”. We’re not praying for my bread; it’s our bread. Bread is a communal product. St. Basil the Great said that nothing that belongs to us is ours alone, particularly that which we have in excess of “our daily bread”. The bread going mouldy because we have too much belongs to the hungry. The shoes that are sitting unloved in the cupboard belong to those who have none. The clothes never worn in our wardrobe belong to those who are naked. Our bread is not ours to hoard. Our bread belongs also to our sisters and brothers, God’s gift which, like so many other good gifts of God, we don’t always appreciate as much as we might.

When we pray, ”Give us today our daily bread,” we’re challenged to radically re-examine ourselves, to acknowledge the claim that God has placed upon us through the gift of bread, to admit the responsibility we have for our neighbour’s need. Christianity is about the material. The things that we own are not “ours.” We’re asked to share because what we have is shared. God has made us part of a good company, a wonderful adventure, so that we no longer need “mine.” You may well think at this point the prayer is hitting too close to home. Things are getting serious.
I end with some words from Donald Hilton:
Can we who every day
eat more than meets our need,
yet know of those
to whom bread is denied,
still come to this table
and take bread?

Can we, insulated in our ease,
and never visited by gnawing pains,
yet see and hear of those
daily assailed by hunger’s grief,
still come to this table
and take bread?

Can we, who rest each night
in peaceful sleep,
tomorrow’s menu clearly planned,
yet know the sleep of millions is disturbed
by pangs of hunger and by children’s painful cries,
still come to this table
and take bread?

Can we, who come as beggars
to the table of the Lord,
yet know that others
in their begging for their daily bread
are Government-denied
and public—scorned,
and often too by us dismissed,
still come to this table
and take bread?

Yes, still we come,
and come we must:
to confess our part in others’ loss;
to be challenged by the face of pain;
to feel the shame of inequality;
and to give thanks,
yes thanks,
that in our giving, prayers and work,
quick-born of love and love’s demands,
we find a slender solidarity
with those who bear the burdens of time,
and meet them here, unseen,
the welcome guests of our own Lord.

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