We’ve come to the third petition of the Lord’s Prayer. In the previous two petitions we’ve asked God to make God’s name holy in our lives, and we’ve asked that God’s reign would be made known in our midst, even as we seek to know and do God’s will. Having made these requests, which focus on God holiness and God’s reign on earth as well as in heaven, we make our first request of God. And in this request, we focus on our most basic of needs – our daily bread. Yes, food, water, shelter, these are the basics, and so it’s not surprising that this is where Jesus begins.
The idea that God is the provider of our daily bread goes back at least to the Exodus story, where the people of Israel find themselves wandering for forty years in the desert of Sinai. Reading the story, you might think that the people expected a quick trip across the desert, and on into the promised land. Yes, just a hop, skip, and a jump, and they’d move from slavery to the good life. I think that’s human nature. We like immediate gratification and solutions, but as the story demonstrates, this trip lasted far longer than anyone expected. So, finding themselves in the desert, which isn’t the greatest storehouse of food and drink, they discover that they don’t have anything to eat. Upon this discovery, they cried out to God – mostly in the form of complaints and grumbling. But, God heard their cries, just as God heard their cries while they were living in slavery in Egypt. In response to their prayers, God provided them with quail, manna from heaven, and water from a rock.
The provisions did come, however, with a few strings attached. Moses tells the people that they should gather the manna, which fell like dew on the desert floor, in the morning. They could bake it or boil it, but they couldn’t save it. If they tried to keep leftovers, they’d spoil. So, there was no reason to hoard. When they saw the food, they rejoiced, but after awhile they got bored with the menu, as well as with life in the desert, and returned to complaining and grumbling (Exodus 16-17).
It’s true that the people of Israel took a great risk in following Moses into the desert. Life may have been bad under Pharaoh’s rule, but at least they knew what to expect. As we all know, sometimes what we know appears to be better than what we don’t know. So, facing the possibility of starvation in the desert made slavery look like a pretty good alternative. To continue the journey in the desert meant walking by faith and depending on God’s provisions.
1. Dependency on God the Provider
When we pray “Give us this day, our daily bread,” we are offering a statement of faith in God. We’re declaring our trust that God will provide our basic needs. Therefore, this beloved prayer, which we recite every Sunday, is a declaration to God of our willingness to entrust the day to God’s care.
Although the Exodus story stands behind this prayer, so do other stories, stories that Jesus’ disciples knew all too well. Those who were first taught this prayer, lived under Roman occupation, and therefore understood that Caesar, not God, was their great provider. Indeed, Caesar used bread, and when the bread ran short, circuses, to control the mob. The point that Caesar liked to make was that the people’s lives depended on Caesar’s grace. Therefore, once again we find Jesus pointing us elsewhere. He wants us to understand that God and not Caesar is our patron, and as such, we are God’s clients and not Caesar’s.
There is, however, more to this petition than simply acknowledging God’s patronage over Caesar’s. As Michael Crosby points out in his reflections on this prayer, in making this petition, we’re recognizing that we’re not self-sufficient. That is, if we think we have no needs, then we’re saying that we have no need of anyone else, including God. He writes about his own discovery, that he’d “fallen for the original temptation of the serpent: to ‘become like God’.” (Michael Crosby, The Prayer that Jesus Taught Us, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Press, 2002, p. 123). When we fall prey to this temptation, then this daily bread becomes “our ‘bread,” which we can provide for ourselves. At that point, it no longer is seen as a gift of God, and thus, we have no need to share with others.
But, when we think that we have everything under control, when we believe that we’re in the driver’s seat of life, then too often we fall victim to anxiety and fear. That is, if everything depends upon me, then what happens when things go awry? It’s at this point, when we’re hanging on by a thread, that we hear Jesus say to us: What benefit does worry bring you? Does it add even a single hour to your life? If not, then why do you keep striving for food and drink, as the nations do? Does God not know what you need? Does God really care more for the ravens than for you? And yet, they don’t seem to worry.
2. Our Solidarity as Neighbors
This petition is our “Declaration of Dependence” on God. It is also a statement of solidarity with our neighbors. The meaning of this prayer depends on its pronouns. Too often we pray this prayer as if we’re speaking in the first-person singular, but that’s not how Jesus taught it. Instead, Jesus invites us to use the words “us” and “our” in our prayer to God our Provider.
We pray: Give to “us” “our” daily bread. These are plural pronouns, which means that when we pray this prayer, we’re identifying ourselves with our neighbors. When we pray this prayer, asking God’s provision of our basic needs, our prayer levels the social playing field. Indeed, even those who appear to be our clients in life, are, like us, God’s clients. To pray this prayer faithfully, requires a certain humility.
Praying that God would provide manna from heaven also involves a willingness to share our bounty with our table mates. I think it’s instructive that Jesus tells his followers that they should sell their possessions and give them as alms to the poor, and that in Acts we read that the earliest Christians pooled their resources, so that no one was in need (Acts 4:32-37).
I’m not sure that we’re supposed to sell everything and join in communal living. Some are called to this life, but it never did become a common practice. But, when we pray this prayer, as Jesus taught it, we are responding to an invitation to what Walter Brueggemann calls the “practice of neighborhood.” It’s a commitment to pursue the common good, a recognition that simply because I don’t make use of a particular service in society, doesn’t mean that my neighbor doesn’t. As Brueggemann puts it, it’s a movement “from scarcity through abundance to neighborhood” (Walter Brueggemann, Journey to the Common Good, WJK Press, 2010, pp. 30-31).
The biblical message is not one of “God helps those who help themselves.” That phrase is more reflective of Benjamin Franklin than Jesus. The message of neighborly solidarity may be best summarized by these words from Ecclesiastes.
Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. . . . And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (Eccl. 4:9-12).
3. Resting in the Provider’s Grace
Jesus tells us to strive for the kingdom, and when we do so then everything else will follow in its wake, for it’s God’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom. All that’s required of us is a willingness to receive God’s provision as a gift of grace. So, don’t worry about tomorrow, instead, put your trust in God, for God is faithful.
In the parable that precedes this morning’s text, Luke sets up this call to trust in God. In this parable, Jesus speaks of a rich man who builds a barn to hold his grain, so that he can sit back, and eat, drink, and be merry. But, as Jesus tells the story, the man would die that very night – so who benefited from this act of hoarding? And so it is, Jesus says, with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God (Luke 12:13-21). Yes, and “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Lk 12:34).
The question facing us today is this: Where is my heart? On whom will I depend? By praying this prayer, we’re declaring that our help and sustenance comes from God.
Now, I do believe this is true, but I must admit that I have hedged my bets. I have a pension, savings, and insurance. Wisdom seems to suggest that we plan for the future, but too often this “wisdom” leads to anxiety, because we believe that everything rests on us, which is why we hoard.
And yet, as we pray “Give us this day, our daily bread,” we confess our belief that God is faithful and gracious and loving. This God will provide all our needs, for as the third stanza of the hymn Amazing Grace puts it:
Through many dangers, toils, and snares, I have already come;
‘Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
March 7, 2009Third Sunday of Lent