Needy People Need More Than Bread for Today
Do you see the interplay between body and soul, flesh and spirit, the spiritual and physical in tonight's reading? Christ's soul is overwhelmed and His body sweats blood. The spirit is willing; the body is weak. Judas betrays first in his heart and then with a bodily kiss. A mob is visibly present to arrest Jesus while unseen angels are at His beck and call. Needy people need more than bread for the body; we need bread for the soul.
Don't be a Calvinist when you pray "Give us this day our daily bread." Calvin strictly rejected taking this petition as praying for anything more than physical bread (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 141). But traditionally praying for physical bread bothered the Church because through Moses God told us, "Man does not live by bread alone." And Jesus taught, "Don't worry about what you shall eat or drink. For the pagans pursue these things, and your Heavenly Father knows you need them", so why would He tell us to pray for them?
Among Early Church theologians only Gregory of Nyssa and Chrysostom emphasized the physical meaning, but they thought of it as a prayer for the bare necessities (Ibid. 121-2). While you find some emphasizing the material and others the spiritual bread, the Early Church fathers all took the clause in both a physical and spiritual sense. Many of them regarded this petition as praying for the Eucharist (We Look for a Kingdom, 133-4). And in all liturgies, the Lord's prayer is always right next to Communion. But in the Middle ages, the earthly bread had priority (Peters, 105).
Likewise, in our Catechism Luther only speaks of praying for all that we need to support this body. But Luther never gave up on the spiritual sense of bread. In his personal prayer book from 1529, same year as the Catechism, he gives the spiritual sense first place (Ibid. 141). In 1519 he writes, "This petition means to say, Father, give us the supernatural, immortal, eternal bread'" (LW, 42, 54). And, "The bread, the Word, and the food are none other than Jesus Christ our Lord Himself" (Ibid., 56).
What's at issue is the word "daily". It has always given the church fits. It's only found in a 5th century papyrus and refers to a day's ration. Since it comes 400 years after the Lord's Prayer, it's use probably comes from that. A Gospel in Aramaic has the Petition as "'what is ours tomorrow, that means our future bread, give us today.'" So, the word daily' can mean for today' or for tomorrow'. These 2 extremes are the "biblically complete meaning of the petition." We pray for God to order the little today of our physical existence in the face of the imminent great tomorrow of God (Peters, 117-9).
Needy people realize that when they pray "give us this day our daily bread" they are asking for what we need today and eternally. Realization is at the heart of Luther's explanation. He says, "we pray in this petition that God would lead us to realize this." And the first thing we ask to realize is that God gives bread for today to everyone even to all evil people, and He does this without our prayers.
That means the chief priests and elders came from their Passover meal with full bellies provided by God to arrest God the Son, and the arresting mob with swords and clubs probably burped from fullness. Even Judas had eaten and drunk taking food from God the Son provided by God the Father. This is First Article of the Apostles' Creed faith. This is the truth that Jesus teaches in the Sermon on the Mount. God makes His sun to shine on the evil and the good; and He sends the rain on the just and the unjust.
But we want to realize more than God gives bread for today to all. He wills to give bread for tomorrow to all. The form of the Greek Word give' is different in Matthew and Luke. In Matthew, it's "You must give daily bread right now." In Luke, it's you must ever give"; it's ongoing. Give us daily bread from here to eternity. In Gethsemane we see Jesus caring for the severed ear of His enemy Malchus, and for the soul of His friend Judas. He tells him even then he could do different than what he came to do.
This is Second Article Christianity. God the Son takes on flesh and blood to redeem all men body and soul. He is in Gethsemane to shed His blood for the remission of sins as He told them at the Last Supper, and the shedding begins with the great drops of blood Jesus sweat here. It's blood from the body of Jesus, but it is shed to cleanse not just our bodies but our souls. And though only one follower fled being bodily naked, every apostle that ran for his life exposed his naked soul as fearful, cowardly, and betraying. They all run in body and soul and Jesus whose soul is overwhelmed to death is seized bodily in their place.
When we say "give us this day our daily bread" we are asking that we might realize that God provides for the physical needs of all and wants to provide for their spiritual needs too. His Son paid for both to happen not with gold or silver but with His holy precious blood spotting the ground in Gethsemane and His innocent sufferings that were lifelong but are about to get a lot more intense.
We pray that we might not only realize all this but realize this with thanksgiving. That takes a miracle, and this is the Third Article of the Creed where we say that the Holy Spirit brings us to a faith that we can't believe on our own. Yes, it's a miracle that you believe God gives daily bread to evil people, even me and you. It's a miracle that you believe God doesn't stop there. He would give to all not just bread to keep this body alive for decades but the Bread of Life to keep souls and bodies alive forever.
Yes, we're not just praying that we might realize God's provision of Bread for today and for tomorrow, for body and for soul; we're praying that we might be able "to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving." Only the needy will do this. One who is full loathes even honey says Proverbs, and it goes on to say that to the hungry, the needy, even what is bitter tastes sweet. It's like a Cajun told me he would tell his 10-year-old son. "If you don't like your mom's cooking at 6, believe me, you'll love it at 10."
Only those bought to see their complete neediness by the Law, will see God's total meeting of their needs by the Gospel. To Gospel faith it's ever as the old man sitting before his crust of bread and piece of cheese says in faith, in thanks and in joy, "All this, and heaven too!" Yes, without any merit or worthiness in anyone God provides every heartbeat, every breath, everything we take for granted, all the while giving heaven itself over to us by giving us His own Son.
Don't divide the needs of your body and soul. Don't think bodily needs are so small as to not be noticed by God. English Evangelist Campbell Morgan was asked by a woman if we ought to pray for even little things in life. "He replied, Madam, can you think of anything in your life that is big to God'" (Illustrations, 276)?
Daily bread is everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body which is not just a body but a soul. A body and soul is what God Himself went all the way into the depths of the human womb to assume and redeem. So, He's concerned with broken bodies and broken hearts, harried lives and lonely ones. And He meets their needs. He who knows and cares about the number of hairs on your head, knows, cares and provides for the smallest of needs be they of body or soul. Therefore, when you pray, "Give us this day our daily bread", you're reminding yourself that He has, does, and will do so, and this presses "thank you" from your heart.
We don't only want to realize we are praying for both bread for today and for tomorrow, bread for our bodies and souls, but we want to actually receive both. And we want to do this daily because that's what Jesus told us to do. Luther said this petition "'is the very center in the seven [petitions], and is the one which governs the others'" (Peters, 126, fn. 46). This petition tells us the Lord gave us this prayer to pray daily and that in turn lets us know that daily His name is hallowed, His kingdom comes, and His will is done. And each and every day He meets are need not just for bread but to be forgiven, to be guarded from temptation, and to be delivered from evil.
But note we pray for "this day." We don't pray for weekly, monthly, or yearly bread, but for daily. There's a lesson here I can illustrate. The basic load of ammunition for a combat infantryman is 200 rounds. Of course, everyone fears running out in combat, so what soldiers in Vietnam would do is take as much as they could carry. There are swamps in Vietnam. Overloaded soldiers would sink to their deaths.
Don't overload yourself with cares about tomorrow's daily bread whether that be food, drink, health, companionship, retirement, or death. Such cares will sink you into the swamp of worry or worse despair. The spiritual Bread the Lord feeds you with forgiveness of sins, life everlasting, and the resurrection of the body; the spiritual Bread the Lord bought and paid for drop by bloody drop, tear by salty tear, sweat by bitter sweat works miracles. It enables you to see the physical bread basket of tomorrow empty and not panic. You don't have to know how it will be filled. You don't have to understand the way the Lord will do it. You can look at that empty breadbasket and say, "Who cares? Not I. Because I don't have to. In fact, my Jesus says, 'Take no thought for tomorrow.'"
Both material bread and spiritual bread is a Communion, is viaticum. Roman Catholics say viaticum is Communion given to someone expected to die. Historically, the viaticum was the 75 denarii signing bonus recruits in the Roman army received (We Look for a Kingdom, 57). A bonus isn't usually received in an emergency. It's something given to be enjoyed here and now leisurely. The daily bread we pray to have for today and for tomorrow are a viaticum, literally "'provision for a journey'" (ODCC, 1436) through this life and into the next.
And whether material bread is needed to help you through this night or spiritual bread to help you through "the night of affliction and temptation of fear and despair when death shall come", you know you have it because your Savior told you not only that you should pray for it, but that you could. Who tells a needy person, "just ask", and doesn't give? Not the Jesus of dark Gethsemane. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent Vespers II (20180221); Lord's Prayer, 4th Petition, Passion Reading 2