We think we know what we want. We think we know what we need. We need food, shelter, clothing, security. We want nice things, some fun toys, a little luxury, maybe. And then Jesus comes along and tells his disciples—tells us, When you pray, say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Not: give us the car we’ve always wanted. Not: give me what I’ve earned, what I deserve. Not: give my family that great vacation we really need. “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We think we know what we need. Bread? Maybe. But, if we’re honest, most of us would prefer a little more dough. And besides, bread is so easy to get. It’s simple, basic, certainly not very interesting. Even in Jesus’ day, when food was scarcer, bread was a staple but not a luxury. We turn to the Lord of the universe, the God who made everything, the God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and we ask, “Give us this day our daily bread?!” Isn’t that low-balling things a bit? Why ask for so little, when we could use, or at least take pleasure in, so much more? Certainly God could provide it.
In our Wednesday evening Lenten study, we’ve been guided by a book by Richard Foster, who has given his life to helping Christians grow as disciples of Jesus Christ. Right out of the gate Foster says, “To pray is to change.” To pray is to recognize our dependence on God; to pray is to realize our own shortcomings; to pray is to seek a life that is faithful to the words we pray. We don’t pray “Give us this day…” because it’s all we can expect from God. We pray for our daily bread so that we can change. We pray for our daily bread so that we can learn to give up the rest of the garbage we think we need and want. We pray for our daily bread so that we can learn that our needs are inseparable from the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, our neighbors, and even our enemies. We pray for our daily bread so we can continue with the risky discipleship that following Jesus is all about.
Isaiah asks his fellow Israelites, “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” He could easily ask us the same question: why waste your money and your labor on the stuff that doesn’t fill you? It’s easy to see that not everything you can get with your money and labor is worth the price. Consciousness about our food, for example, has risen in recent years and drawn attention to the trash we put into our bodies: chemicals, preservatives, extra sugar and fats. You can buy that burger at McDonald’s, but it will do you more harm than good in the long run.
Isaiah, I think, would agree with the importance of investing in quality food, but his point is much deeper. In chapter 55, which John read for us just a few minutes ago, he gives us a taste of an ancient Israelite market: crowds of people swarming to buy their basic needs, and eager merchants clamoring for their attention—and their money: Over here, bread for sale! Water, clean water, right here! Wine, only the best, for you! It’s chaotic, and vibrant, and there are forces pulling people in every direction. And in the middle of this market one new voice pierces through the crowd: “Ho, everyone that thirsts, come to waters; and you that have no money, come, buy, and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price! Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” In other words, get the bread, milk, wine, and water from the one Source, the Merchant whose wares have no price, or waste your life on the junk food from everyone else. Everything else, no matter how pretty or how delicious or how delightful, is a waste. Give us this day our daily bread: only the bread from God can satisfy. Only the bread from God is worth our attention.
And it’s our attention, not my attention, or your attention, that should be turned toward God. We pray, Give us this day. Right now, we live in a world where if you, as a family, make $100,000 a year, you have more resources than 99% of the planet. You’re taken care of. You may not feel like it all the time, but your needs are met. And yet there are millions and millions of people, some living right here in our community, who struggle to get to their next meal. The prayer for daily bread is only good if we pray it for us. Hording up so much more than we need while others do not have enough places us at odds with the Lord’s Prayer, makes us opponents of the way Jesus tells us God does things. Having more than our daily bread while neighbors near and far do not even have a simple meal is a matter of justice that God cares about—far more than we sometimes allow ourselves to imagine. That’s why it’s so important that we support vital ministries like our Food Pantry and the Welcome One Shelter and the offering for the One Great Hour of Sharing we’ll take up next week. If you have more than your daily bread, give generously and give often. It may be your only hope. In the kingdom of God, in the kingdom where the Lord’s Prayer is prayed faithfully and sincerely, your need is never met until your neighbor has also been fed. Give us this day our daily bread.
This goes against, of course, our hording culture. Last fall, Libby and I joined BJ’s Wholesale Club. We justified it in all sorts of ways, but I’m convinced it’s one of the most spiritually damaging things our family has done in a long time, maybe ever. BJ’s, Costco, Amazon, our whole American way of buying, tells us over and over again: You can never have too much; Get enough for tomorrow, too; You don’t know what might happen, and you don’t want to run out of essentials. Buy in bulk. Stock up; store up; save up. Jesus’ prayer, on the other hand, insists that we ask only for our daily bread, only enough for this day, and none other. And Jesus doesn’t mean for us to ask God for our daily bread so that we can take care of the rest with our bulk-buying habits. To ask for daily bread is to reinforce the risky business that is Christian discipleship. Asking for daily bread requires us to have faith that God will give us what we need, and that God will do it again and again. Our save-up, store-up, stock-up culture is not of God. It corrupts our faith in God and fools us into thinking that we can control our futures very well without any divine assistance.
Give us this day… We have real needs, but they aren’t what advertisements and celebrities and even our own desires tell us. Our greatest need is to turn to God, to have faith in God’s provision, to give up our selfish hording and faithless buying habits, to turn away from the junk food of this world for the bread of heaven and the cup of salvation. And Holy Communion, when we receive our daily bread from the Lord in the most holy way possible, reminds us that our faith, our prayer, is not in vain.