Matthew 6: 11
11 Give us today our daily bread.
My great grandfather was a great writer of letters to amongst others The Scotsman newspaper. One said “men work to buy bread so they may have the strength to work to buy bread”.
Here in this appeal for bread we have the simplest and most straightforward clause in the Lord’s Prayer surely. Please Lord give me my needs for today and I’ll be fine. Thanks.
Except of course it isn’t.
The phrase is ‘Give us our daily bread’ not ‘give me my’. It is a prayer for others; it is not a selfish prayer.
As always several interpretations have been proposed, some of them quite frankly completely barking, others less so and for the sake of brevity I shall mention a few of the more sensible ones only!
In a spiritual sense it could refer to the bread in the Communion, and we are praying that we may share in the Lord’s Supper each and every day. It could be argued of course that we do any way but let that be. It does though lead to a second interpretation that we wish to share in the spiritual food of the word of God, as the hymn says You shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord (CH4 641). So here we are asking for true doctrine and the essential truth of the faith.
Others have taken Bread to be shorthand for Jesus himself, after all he called himself the bread of life, we ask to feed on him who will satisfy our spiritual hunger. Matthew Arnold, the Victorian school reformer, spoke of an encounter with a hard worked vicar in the East End of London. Arnold asked how he was doing under the pressures of his calling, he answered ‘Bravely, for I have been cheered with thoughts of Christ the living bread’. A daily dose of the living bread does indeed keep our hopes and faith going.
None of these interpretations are wrong and indeed each has a value in helping us pray and indeed live.
There is another point about this line, the word that is translated as Daily was thought to be unique to this passage and was long thought to be a word Matthew either invented or corrupted from another spelling, although scholars always agreed daily was the only logical translation. Just after the last War archaeologists uncovered some fragments of parchments (not the Dead Sea scrolls which were found far away) but this word appeared on them again only once. It was on a list of goods that someone had been sent to buy and it was meant to say ‘Only buy enough for today’ so the phrase may well have originally meant give what we need for today, echoing Jesus instruction not to worry about tomorrow until tomorrow.
The prayer though does tell us several things about Jesus and what he thought of us.
Firstly he cared about our bodily needs; he knew that we could not serve him if we were constantly searching for the means to merely stay alive. Secondly he wanted us to live one day at a time. An old rabbinical saying goes “He who having eaten his fill one day and then asks what shall I eat tomorrow? Is a man of little faith”. Thirdly it shows how we must depend on God, we can struggle and strive but without God we will never succeed. Fourthly all creation is a gift of God, only he made things that could grow and feed us; mankind has made many dramatic and great leaps in scientific understanding but yet is no nearer making life than the Stone Age shaman.
Finally this clause shows how prayer works. The man who prays give us our daily bread and sits back waiting for food to fall in his lap would starve, prayer and work go hand in hand to achieve what we and God require and need.
God give us bread aplenty, the supply is not an issue, what is and always has been an issue is its distribution so all may share in God’s bounty. Here we pray not only that we might receive but that we might share also.
Lord God our loving Father in Heaven, may we learn to share your bounty that none may be in need of food, and all may know your love.
In your Mercy hear our prayer,