In asking for daily bread, the Our Father turns from hallowing God’s name and anticipating God’s kin*dom and turns toward our human needs. Bread in this prayer means literally food, the sustenance every human needs to continue being, growing, working, loving. Implicitly we are asking for all that people need to live and thrive: food, water, shelter, clothing, education, and health care. We pray for bread, not steak or lobster; for what we need, not all we desire. Jesus’ prayer has a hungry edge, for it asks for bread one day at a time. It commits us to daily prayer for daily food.
The early Israelites in their desert wanderings lived on the edge of hunger, on what they could gather to eat in the desert. God sent them manna each morning, which they gathered and ate each day. Every sixth day God provided an overabundance and the people gathered enough for two days. They rested from gathering on the Sabbath. During their 40 years in the desert the people lived off the land, one day or two away from hunger. Israel’s history remembers these 40 years as an idyllic time when the people ate from the hand of God. In Luke’s gospel (14.15-24) Jesus tells a parable about a great dinner to which the invited guests refuse to come. What does a host do whose guests refuse a sumptuous meal? He invites the poor to the table. In Matthew’s gospel the same parable becomes a wedding banquet for the king’s son, a wedding feast for Jesus the messiah. In this allegory, accepting the invitation to the feast means believing in Jesus. The feast is an image of the messiah’s kin*dom, which provides food and a place for all, a relationship both to the host and to the fellow banqueters.
Although we often pray the Our Father individually and privately, its words never permit us to pray as individuals. Its pronouns insist we pray as us, as all of us who need food to live. The word us makes our prayer more than a petition; it commits us to the well being of others. As a Christian, it is not enough that I receive daily bread if others do not. It is not enough to pray that others eat without also working towards the goal of everyone feasting at the table of God’s creation.
We see in the news every day that people are hungry. Harvests fail, economies dive, war threatens, refugee families search desperately for food and safety. These problems usually affect the poorest first and most especially children.
The word daily in the Our Father translates the Greek word epiousios. The scriptures use this word only here. Scholars argue this Greek word can also mean tomorrow. If we pray that God give us bread for tomorrow, our prayer begins to ask not only for toast and muffins, but for hope. It looks beyond our immediate needs toward the tomorrow when God’s kin*dom will come.
We ask for the bread of faith and hope we need to journey toward the culminating of all things in God. It is the bread of promise we share and eat at every Eucharist. It is bread enriched with love that empowers the same self-giving that animated Jesus, the bread of life that is Jesus and his Spirit really and abundantly present with us that all may have life. At every Eucharist the Our Father with its petition for daily bread is our meal prayer. It is a prayer that commits us to the poor and to the coming of God’s kin*dom.
When and where have you experienced hunger? Who do you know who is hungry? What is causing the problem? Young people need mentors to engage them in the work of charity and justice. Who can you help learn the value and practice of noticing and aiding the poor among us?
Does your parish or workplace have ways you can contribute to alleviating the hunger of others? If not, gather a group of friends and start something: collect food for a food shelf or shelter, invite a speaker to tell about world hunger, challenge parishioners or co-workers to contribute to an ark of animals from Heifer International, send letters to Congress through Bread for the World.