OUR DAILY BREAD
Give us to-day bread for the coming day.
One would have thought that this is the one petition of the Lord’s Prayer about the meaning of which there could have been no possible doubt. It seems on the face of it to be the simplest and the most direct of them all. But it is the fact that many interpreters have offered many interpretations of it. Before we think of its simple and obvious meaning, let us look at some of the other explanations which have been offered.
(i) The bread has been identified with the bread of the Lord’s Supper. From the very beginning the Lord’s Prayer has been closely connected with the Lord’s Table. In the very first orders of service which we possess it is always laid down that the Lord’s Prayer should be prayed at the Lord’s Table, and some have taken this petition as a prayer to be granted the daily privilege of sitting at the Table of our Lord, and of eating the spiritual food which a man receives there.
(ii) The bread has been identified with the spiritual food of the word of God. We sometimes sing the hymn:
Break thou the bread of life, Dear Lord, to me, As thou didst break the loaves Beside the sea. Beyond the sacred page I seek thee, Lord, My spirit pants for thee, O living word.”
So this petition has been taken to be a prayer for the true teaching, the true doctrine, the essential truth, which are in the scriptures and the word of God, and which are indeed food for a man’s mind and heart and soul.
(iii) The bread has been taken to stand for Jesus himself. Jesus called himself the bread of life (Jn.6:33-35), and this has been taken to be a prayer that daily we may be fed on him who is the living bread. It was in that way that Matthew Arnold used the phrase, when he wrote his poem about the saint of God he met in the east end of London one suffocating day:
“‘Twas August, and the fierce sun overhead Smote on the squalid streets of Bethnal Green, And the pale weaver, through his windows seen, In Spitalfields, look’d thrice dispirited. I met a preacher there I knew and said: `Ill and o’er worked, how fare you in this scene?’ `Bravely!’ said he, `for I of late have been Much cheer’d with thoughts of Christ, the living bread.'”
So then this petition has been taken as a prayer that we too might be cheered and strengthened with Christ the living bread.
(iv) This petition has been taken in a purely Jewish sense. The bread has been taken to be the bread of the heavenly kingdom. Luke tells how one of the bystanders said to Jesus: “Blessed is he who shall eat bread in the Kingdom of God” (Lk.14:15). The Jews had a strange yet vivid idea. They held that when the Messiah came, and when the golden age dawned, there would be what they called the Messianic banquet, at which the chosen ones of God would sit down. The slain bodies of the monsters Behemoth and Leviathan would provide the meat and the fish courses of the banquet. It would be a kind of reception feast given by God to his own people. So, then, this has been taken to be a petition for a place at the final Messianic banquet of the people of God.
Although we need not agree that any one of these explanations is the main meaning of this petition, we need not reject any of them as false. They all have their own truth and their own relevance.
The difficulty of interpreting this petition was increased by the fact that there was very considerable doubt as to the meaning of the word epiousios (GSN1967), which is the word which the Revised Standard Version translates “daily.” The extraordinary fact was that, until a short time ago, there was no other known occurrence of this word in the whole of Greek literature. Origen knew this, and indeed held that Matthew had invented the word. It was therefore not possible to be sure what it precisely meant. But not very long ago a papyrus fragment turned up with this word on it; and the papyrus fragment was actually a woman”s shopping list! And against an item on it was the word epiousios (GSN1967). It was a note to remind her to buy supplies of a certain food for the coming day. So, very simply, what this petition means is: “Give me the things we need to eat for this coming day. Help me to get the things I’ve got on my shopping list when I go out this morning. Give me the things we need to eat when the children come in from school, and the men folk come in from work. Grant that the table be not bare when we sit down together to-day.” This is a simple prayer that God will supply us with the things we need for the coming day.
OUR DAILY BREAD
Matt. 6:11 (continued)
When we see that this is a simple petition for the needs of the everyday, certain tremendous truths emerge from it.
(i) It tells us that God cares for our bodies. Jesus showed us that; he spent so much time healing men’s diseases and satisfying their physical hunger. He was anxious when he thought that the crowd who had followed him out into the lonely places had a long road home, and no food to eat before they set out upon it. We do well to remember that God is interested in our bodies. Any teaching which belittles, and despises, and slanders the body is wrong. We can see what God thinks of our human bodies, when we remember that he himself in Jesus Christ took a human body upon him. It is not simply soul salvation, it is whole salvation, the salvation of body, mind and spirit, at which Christianity aims.
(ii) This petition teaches us to pray for our daily bread, for bread for the coming day. It teaches us to live one day at a time, and not to worry and be anxious about the distant and the unknown future. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray this petition, there is little doubt that his mind was going back to the story of the manna in the wilderness (Exo.16:1-21). The children of Israel were starving in the wilderness. and God sent them the manna. the food from heaven; but there was one condition–they must gather only enough for their immediate needs. If they tried to gather too much, and to store it up, it went bad. They had to be satisfied with enough for the day. As one Rabbi put it: “The portion of a day in its day, because he who created the day created sustenance for the day.” And as another Rabbi had it: “He who possesses what he can eat to-day, and says, `What shall I eat to-morrow?’ is a man of little faith.” This petition tells us to live one day at a time. It forbids the anxious worry which is so characteristic of the life which has not learned to trust God.
(iii) By implication this petition gives God his proper place. It admits that it is from God we receive the food which is necessary to support life. No man has ever created a seed which will grow. The scientist can analyse a seed into its constituent elements, but no synthetic seed would ever grow. All living things come from God. Our food, therefore, is the direct gift of God.
(iv) This petition very wisely reminds us of how prayer works. If a man prayed this prayer, and then sat back and waited for bread to fall into his hands, he would certainly starve. It reminds us that prayer and work go hand in hand and that when we pray we must go on to work to make our prayers come true. It is true that the living seed comes from God, but it is equally true that it is man’s task to grow and to cultivate that seed. Dick Sheppard used to love a certain story. There was a man who had an allotment; he had with great toil reclaimed a piece of ground, clearing away the stones, eradicating the rank growth of weeds, enriching and feeding the ground, until it produced the loveliest flowers and vegetables. One evening he was showing a pious friend around his allotment. The pious friend said, “It’s wonderful what God can do with a bit of ground like this, isn’t it?” “Yes.” said the man who had put in such toil, “but you should have seen this bit of ground when God had it to himself!” God’s bounty and man’s toil must combine. Prayer, like faith, without works is dead. When we pray this petition we are recognizing two basic truths–that without God we can do nothing, and that without our effort and cooperation God can do nothing for us.
(v) We must note that Jesus did not teach us to pray: “Give me my daily bread.” He taught us to pray: “Give us our daily bread.” The problem of the world is not that there is not enough to go round; there is enough and to spare. The problem is not the supply of life’s essentials; it is the distribution of them. This prayer teaches us never to be selfish in our prayers. It is a prayer which we can help God to answer by giving to others who are less fortunate than we are. This prayer is not only a prayer that we may receive our daily bread; it is also a prayer that we may share our daily bread with others.
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