I love good bread. San Francisco sour dough bread, Italian garlic bread, recently baked whole grain bread, and the rosemary olive bread I treat myself to at Pan D’Avignon. My heart is filled with joy as I bite into a scone or croissant or dollop a large smear of cream cheese with lox and capers on an everything bagel. Where there is bread there is life; where there is bread, there is celebration.
And, so Jesus counseled, when we pray, let us remember to ask God “give us this day our daily bread.” Bread is the stuff of life, especially in ancient times and developing nations. It’s a symbol not just for celebration, but survival as families face starvation, malnutrition, and drought, much of it the result of political chaos and climate change.
Scholars debate the exact meaning of “give us this day our daily bread.” Some scholars believe that Jesus is referring to our daily need for sustenance and security. Others prefer the translation, “give us today the bread we need for tomorrow,” suggesting that Jesus was referring to our need to place the future and its uncertainty in God’s care, rather than succumbing to the anxiety of the present moment. I believe both answers are right.
“Give us the bread we need for today.” This may not mean much to us, especially those of us who pick up a week’s worth of groceries as we pilgrim from Trader Joes to Stop and Shop or Star or Whole Foods, with a mini-stop at Lambert’s or Fancy’s and the package store. We have full cupboards and freezers, and bread in our bread baskets. But, in Jesus’ day, and in some parts of the world today, adults went to the market every day. Sometimes they truly lived one day at a time, making just enough money to buy today’s or tomorrow’s groceries.
I confess that I am a person of privilege, who sometimes needs to declutter my refrigerator and cupboards of stale or “beyond the use date” foods. But, I have been poor, and being poor shapes the way you look at life, even if you have more than enough today. When I was eleven, my dad lost his job and we had to leave the garden of Eden, our small town, and move to the big city. I recall our family getting food baskets and living from paycheck to paycheck till my Dad got back on his feet, first as a security guard at $3 an hour and later after he recovered his professional career, and my mom went back to school to renew her teaching credential.
I can empathize with the homeless here on Cape Cod, the single parent scraping by, the out of work trades person, and the inner city teen locked in a cycle of poverty. It astounds me when I hear people uttering “the poor are lazy” or “if they only had a work ethic, they would succeed.” Or use the passage “the poor are with you always” to do nothing while rewarding the wealthy. I am sure that God doesn’t care how you got into trouble, God wants to get you out.
Jesus knew the meaning of daily bread. He fasted for forty days in the wilderness, and no doubt longed for a crust of bread, as he sought to discern his vocation.
We pray for bread enough for today, and we pray for tomorrow’s bread as well. Many of us fear the future and ask “will we outlive our retirement plans, and what will happen if we get sick?” These are real fears, and I share them as I find myself in my mid-sixties and not as agile as I was 40 years ago and have discovered that “better living through chemistry” no longer applies to going on the Beatles’ Magical Mystery tour. Yet, in our fear and anxiety about the future, Jesus reminds us to consider the lilies of the field and birds of the air. If God takes care of these, won’t God supply our deepest needs as well?
Daily bread is a big deal, and my love for bread and the good life has led to having to concern myself with diet and weight. I have the health anxieties of the affluent, those who eat too much and own too much. But, there is another weight problem out there – it is the weight of poverty and malnutrition, the reality that close to 3 million children will die this year of diseases related to an inadequate diet and millions more will suffer from chronic illness of mind and body due to not having proper nutrition. When an administration official boasted that many of the children separated from their parents on the borderlands had better living conditions than American children, he expressed a terrible truth, unwittingly, that should convict every American – kids in our neighborhoods don’t get the right nutrition, kids in rural and urban America go hungry – it is important to note that around 70% of the kids at Hyannis West, across the street from Star Market, receive lunch subsidies, and 30% in our own neighborhood’s Centerville School, for whom we will soon begin to collect back packs and supplies.
When I was a boy, at vacation bible school, I played the role of the boy with five loaves and two fish, whose generosity enabled Jesus to feed 5000. Now, I am sure that Jesus can do great things – using the inherent energy of life, the power of the big bang, Jesus can find ways to multiply loaves – this is the divine imagination, embodied in the world. But, another equally surprising miracle in this era of growing gaps between wealthy and poor, the vanishing middle class, and global poverty might have been the following: when the folk in the crowd saw the boy come up with his loaves, they had an epiphany – “if we share – if we let go of our worries for security – everyone, including us, will have enough.” And, so they shared. The same is true for us: every hunger expert says there is enough food to go around. It’s a matter of our willingness to share and to create infrastructures for distribution.
Perhaps, you recall the contrasting images of heaven and hell. A man had a dream: he went into two banquet halls both of which had tables heaped with nutritious and tasty food. In both rooms, large and unwieldly spoons were attached to each arm, such that they could not bend their elbows to scoop up the food in front of them. In the first, there were shouts and anger as each person tried unsuccessfully to scoop up the food from his or her own plate. In the other, there was song and laughter, each one used his long spoon to feed his neighbor!
Give us this day our daily bread. Give us enough to share with others, for in our generosity, we are fed, and in our sacrifices, we are welcomed to a banquet of divine delight, where our needs are met and everyone is fed.