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05.06.12 Give us This Day Our Daily Bread, Luke 24:1-3, 13-35 Sermon Summary

by on May 7, 2012

Asking God for “daily bread” is especially challenging since God has already answered this prayer abundantly. So why would Jesus enjoin us to pray for it in the Lord’s Prayer?

Summary Points

  • The difficulty in praying for daily bread
  • The symbolic reference of bread in our day
  • The symbolic reference of bread in Jesus’ day

Did you know that a family of four could live 10 years off the bread produced by one acre of wheat? The harvest in 1997 from Kansas alone produced enough wheat to make 36.5 billion loaves of bread, or enough to provide each person on earth with 6 loaves of bread. It only takes 9 seconds for a combine to harvest enough wheat to make about 70 loaves of bread.

So how can we make sense of the fourth petition of Jesus’ model prayer, the Lord’s Prayer, when we say, “Give us this day, our daily bread”? We might be tempted to ignore this petition, figuring that praying for God’s name to be hallowed, God’s kingdom to come, and God’s will to be done is really the main point of the Lord’s Prayer anyway. But Karl Barth warns us, “It would be dangerous to omit the last three petitions, for then there would be, on the one hand, an ecclesiastical, theological, metaphysical sphere, and, on the other hand, a sphere concerned with money, sex, business, and social relationships. There would thus be two compartments. Now, whether you wish it or not, there is only one. Nothing is so pernicious as the illusion of two compartments.” (Barth Prayer, p. 29)

Calvin recognized two parts to the Lord’s Prayer. In the first part we pray for God’s glory; in the second, for things pertaining to our salvation. Both are necessary, but the order is important. One of Aquinas’ conditions for prayer is “rightly ordered”; in other words, concern for the things of God prior to the things of humanity. “Seek first, God’s kingdom,” Jesus tells the disciples after teaching them to pray, “and all these things will be added to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33). James 4 tells us our prayers are unanswered because we “pray wrongly.” Our prayers should be prefaced with “If it be God’s will, then . . .”

But what of this prayer for daily bread? How is this necessary for our salvation, according to Calvin? How is it part of the one sphere of God, according to Barth?

The first answer is to recognize the symbolic reference of “bread.” It is, according to Luther, representative of all our basic needs of life. In our culture, we intuitively attribute this to bread by referring to money as “bread” or “dough.” We know what the warning, “don’t forget which side your bread is buttered on,” means—our livelihood depends on that answer.

Putting it concretely, Luther (shorter catechism) said, “Daily bread means everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, right spouses, children, [and] rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” This led him to conclude (in the larger catechism), “Indeed, the greatest need of all is to pray for the civil authorities and government, for it is chiefly through them that God provides us daily bread and all the comforts of this life.”

Luther wasn’t advocating for a welfare state. But he was calling our attention to our social interdependence, and our ultimate dependence on God. Even those of us who can make bread “from scratch” can’t do it without the work of farmers, truck drivers, grocery stores, etc. Ultimately Deuteronomy 8:17-18 is true: “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.”

However, this concern for basic needs can be taken too far, which is exactly why the petition for daily bread comes before the petition for forgiveness of sins. For trusting God in something so simple and mundane as daily bread is necessary to really trust God for something so essential to salvation as forgiveness of sins.

Think about it. How many of us, by our actions, despite our prayers, demonstrate that we don’t trust God for daily bread? How many of our lives are characterized by greed, materialism, hoarding, and excessive preoccupation with saving for the future? These actions suggest our hypocrisy in praying for daily bread. And if we can’t trust God for that, how can we trust God for forgiveness?

So this is exactly why Jesus calls us to pray for “this day,” because it reminds us daily of our dependence upon God. In truth, every moment we are dependent upon God. And God is faithful. Biblical translators now suggest that what we pray as “daily bread” might be better rendered “bread for tomorrow.” It’s a unique and enigmatic word in the original Greek, but what it suggests is that we pray today for God’s providence tomorrow—still a daily recognition of God’s providence, but with a faith in God’s continued providence tomorrow.

This kind of attitude is spiritually healthy, as testified to in the wisdom of Proverbs 30:8-9: “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that I need, or I shall be full, and deny you, and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or I shall be poor, and steal, and profane the name of my God.”

All this is quite theological and relatively contemporary. How did Jesus himself view bread? As a Jew, of course Jesus would hear “bread” and think of the faithful providence of God during his ancestors’ wilderness experience. There God heard their complaints and provided a bread-like substance called manna (Exodus 16:4).

Jesus would here “bread” and remember Deuteronomy 8:3 which he quoted when tempted, after fasting 40 days, to turn stones into bread. His response, “One does not live by bread alone, but by God’s Word.” So “bread” symbolized God’s Word to Jesus.

In the Lord’s Prayer, every subsequent petition explains the first petition—what it means to “hallow God’s name.” What Jesus revealed is that when God’s name is hallowed, everything is hallowed. This is especially evident in the story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus When Jesus enters the story, the obscurity of the Old Testament becomes clear, and ordinary things like bread become holy.

That’s because Jesus revealed the kingdom of God come to earth. About this kingdom, Isaiah envisioned: “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-matured wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-matured wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples, the sheet that is spread over all nations; he will swallow up death for ever. Then the LORD God will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken” (Isaiah 25:6-8).

In Jesus, all things become hallowed because in Jesus all things come to hallow God’s name. Bread is the symbol of the providence of God and of the kingdom of God. It is the symbol of the very presence of God, as evident again in the story of Emmaus. When Jesus broke the bread, they recognized the risen Christ, and then he disappears from their sight. God is present in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of table fellowship, just as Jesus promised that as we feed the hungry, we are feeding him (Matthew 25).

Which is why we pray not for “my daily bread,” or “my family’s daily bread,” or “my nation’s daily bread.” We pray for “our daily bread,” and that “our” refers to all the nations Isaiah envisioned.

So the next time you’re enjoying bread, whether it be pizza, sandwich, cake, or cracker, reflect with thanksgiving upon God’s generosity to you. And as an act of thanksgiving, reflect God’s generosity through you to others.

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