“Give us today our daily bread”
Friday, 18 September 2020
“Give us today our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11)
“Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:3)
Matthew 6:9-13; Luke 11:1-4
For the first time in the Lord’s Prayer, we see something that looks like the conventional prayer of petition with which most of us, I suspect, grew up. Even here, it contains elements that invite us to further reflection.
Let’s start by focusing on the phrase ‘our daily bread’. When we read of bread in the New Testament (and the Hebrew Bible for that matter), we must read it on two levels. First, literally, as bread. Secondly, what it signifies is the most basic food that sustains all people, rich or poor. In other words, it is a metaphor for basic human needs.
We are asking God that our very basic needs be met. Nothing more. Any more than that would probably have seemed inappropriate to Jesus or to any honourable person living in his time.
I’m sorry if this is bad news for anyone who’s prayed for a Porsche, a mansion on a Caribbean beach or a cattle ranch to retire to on the Argentine pampas. There’s nothing wrong in having these or any other nice things, I suppose – so long as they are obtained honestly and do no harm to others in the process of their acquisition.
But it is inappropriate to ask God for such things. Apart from the distinction between need and greed, all too often such kinds of petitionary prayer take on a transactional nature: If God gives me X, I will do Y. This is bargaining with God. You cannot bargain with God because that implies a relationship of equality between creator and creature that does not exist.
What we can pray for is that our basic needs are met.
In addition, I think it is also true to say that in acknowledging these needs, we recognise the needs of others too and imply in our prayer that we wish others’ need to be met. Indeed, insofar as we can we admit that we should do our best to help to meet the needs of others.