'Breathtaking' is a 19th century word, but it was first used in a bad sense of "causing one to breathe rapidly or with difficulty : making one out of breath". Merriam-Webster tells you it's in the top 3% of words used today ("Breathtaking" ). The sense I'm using is the one popular today: astonishing, awe-inspiring. In fact, Google says that since WWII the word had been on a sharp increase till 2016. In our day, adjectives of amazement and superlatives are over used. However, if your daily bread is not breathtaking, if say it's quotidian, that the literary word for 'daily' and means humdrum, commonplace, you can't be receiving it from your Father in heaven and you're on the path of Judas not Peter. Now I have your attention.
In the temporal/material world, what aren't we praying for? Our confession is complete yet expansive. We give examples "such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money, goods, a devout husband or wife, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self control, good reputation, good friends, [and] faithful neighbors." But we have even more in view. We say, "Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body", and we end with "and the like" meaning there are even more material things. In the Large Catechism we say this petition particularly focuses on civil authorities. "Indeed, the greatest need of all is to pray for our civil authorities and the government, for chiefly through them does God provide us our daily bread and all the comforts of this life" (III, 74). Elsewhere in the Large Catechism, Luther says this petition is "directed against our chief enemy, the devil" who "prevents and hinders the establishment of any kind of government" (Ibid., 80-1).
What aren't we praying for and when aren't we praying for? We say 'daily bread' but the Greek word epiousios which is translated 'daily' is only found in Matthew's and Luke's account of the Lord's Prayer and in an Upper Egyptian papyrus from the 5th century. There it's a 'day ration.' Origen said the word didn't exist in Greek literary usage nor was it used in folk language. He thought it was coined by the Evangelists themselves (de orat. 27). I say it was coined by Jesus Himself. It is best translated, "Give us this day our bread for today and tomorrow. "The two extremes - for today and for tomorrow - characterize the biblically complete meaning of the petition." The picture here is the Church praying for all our days (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 117-119). Isn't' that breathtaking?
Well, if the fact there is nothing we're not praying for and no time either doesn't take your breath away, how about the fact there's no one we're not praying for? "God gives daily bread to everyone" we say, and then we expand it even further "even to all evil people." Romans 5 says that while we were still God's enemies, ungodly, unbelieving, Christ died for us. So, is it any surprise that He bestows upon them temporal/material blessings too? Jesus says in Mt. 5:45 that our Father in heaven "causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous." It was the practice of some churches, even into the 20th century, to toll their bell when the 4th Petition was prayed, so the surrounding community might know the Church was praying for their daily bread too.
Are you familiar with the painting of the old man or woman before a slice of bread and a chunk of cheese saying their table prayer? It's often captioned, "All This and Heaven Too." Little did I know that the saying comes from a dark Bettie Davis film of 1940. The movie has a Judas character who doesn't get to the breathtaking prayer, "All this and heaven too" and the Davis character who, like Peter, does. Already we've seen that this petition does connect to the eternal, the everlasting because we pray for bread today and all our tomorrows. But in the Small Catechism we mention only material things. Compare this to Luther in 1519. He has a breathtaking view of this petition 10 years prior to writing the catechisms. "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" (Ibid., 56).
What changed in 10 years? Those who denied Communion is really the Body and Blood of Christ wanted to argue their point from passages other than the Words of Institution. Luther didn't want to give them an excuse. So in a March 10, 1523 sermon on the Lord's Prayer the physical bread is given the primacy. By May 26, 1528 a sermon would only mention the spiritual bread in passing. Luther explained himself, "'Although in this place spiritual bread also may be retained, nevertheless in the plain sense we will remain because we are preaching to young men'" (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 127 & fn. 48).
Throughout church history, there's a back and forth between the views of material versus spiritual bread. In almost all late Medieval explanations, the time Luther writes from, the earthly bread has priority (Ibid., 105, fn. 24). But among Early Church exegetes only Gregory of Nyssa & Chrysostom allow the physical meaning to hold. Tertullian connects giving us earthly bread to Christ our true Bread and to the Body of Christ in Communion. Cyprian developed this. Augustine too associates it with Communion (Ibid., 121-2), or with the Word of God allotted to us daily (Ibid., 123, fn. 27). With Chrysologus the eucharistic understanding is the only one. "'It is the bread that was sowed in the Virgin, leavened in the flesh, prepared in suffering, baked in the oven of the grave... He distributes Himself as Bread from heaven daily...'" (Ibid., 121-2).
In the liturgies that have come down to us, the Lord's Prayer is always in close proximity to the Lord's Supper. Don't you think, "Give us this day our daily prayer" is answered by the Lord's Supper right after? The 4th century John Cassian translates this petition, "'Give us this day our supersubstantial bread" (ACC, NT III, 56) and Augustine taught "'daily bread" was a prayer for daily Eucharist (Companion to St. Augustine, 65). We must be praying for both temporal and eternal Bread. Or do you think the bread Jesus offered to tax collectors and sinners at table was only everyday bread and nothing more? Likewise, the Bread of the Lord's Supper is earthly bread and yet much more: His Body given unto death. Every meal of Jesus' was ordinary yet extraordinary (Peters, Lord's Prayer, 120-1).
We're inching closer to the Judas-Peter thing. To one Jesus was no more than ordinary. To the other much more. But we're not there yet. Back to the spiritual versus material bread. A real difficulty in taking this only about daily bread and not Bread for tomorrow is that in Matthew's chapter where Jesus gives this petition He also says, "So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' ... But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." The Lord in effect says, "Don't concern yourself with bread for today but for tomorrow." Both Judas and Peter valued this life and bread above all else. One was willing to betray the Bread of tomorrow for 30 pieces of sliver to buy bread for today; one betrayed the Bread of tomorrow to save his bodily life today. Both sold their eternal souls in the process. Is there a way back? There better be.
The way back to the God of forgiveness, mercy, and comfort is always in the realm of grace. "Give us this day our daily bread" functions like the look the Lord gave Peter tonight, if you look at it the way our Catechism does. Because He gives daily bread to everyone, even evil people, without our prayer, we can't be reminding God to give us our daily bread or not to look at our sins. No, He gives them and us our daily bread as we say in the First Article: "...only out of Fatherly divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness in me." Fatherly, divine goodness and mercy can only be in connection with His Son, our Brother, Jesus. Jesus hungered and thirsted thereby paying for our sins of appetite and mouth, so that we might be given daily bread. In His anger, the Father could rightly throw us out of His house forever, but Jesus stilled that anger. The cross has all the pathos of a scene where an enraged father beats his wicked son for disgracing his name till his wrath is satisfied. The Eternal Father's wrath is unimageable. The suffering it takes to appease it, to quench it, is too.
We're not reminding God to give us daily bread but we are says Luther praying that we might receive it from the hand of God (Peters, 139). By hanging himself, Judas slapped that hand a way. He was too sinful, too unworthy, too wicked for God's material blessing, like physical life, let alone forgiveness and everlasting life. Peter doesn't slap the hand away. He will be found in the upper room eating his daily bread with the other disciples Easter evening. Yes, it takes him awhile to receive the grace, mercy, and peace Jesus bestows. Probably more than the 40 days between Easter and Ascension. Probably, Peter's like us and our great sins. They floated back into his conscience, his dreams, his nightmares, and muddied them the rest of his life. Peter spoke of this when he said, "Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour" (1 Pt. 5:8). Spoken as one who has heard the roaring.
See what we specifically say we're asking for by praying this petition: "We pray...that God would lead us to realize [that He gives daily bread without our prayers even to evil people] and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving." This only happens when our breath is taken away by two things: God's loving Fatherly heart that wants to give more than we ask and His grand omnipotence that is able to give more than we ask or think (History of the Suffering, Gerhard, 68). Judas is blind to both God's Fatherly heart in Christ and His Almighty Power. He believes that God can only forgive what he thinks and give only what he can get his tiny, sinful head around. Read John 21; Peter goes by what Jesus says and knows.
Judas did what the ancient Didache said should not be done. He approached prayer with an evil conscience (4:14). Can't you see him fleeing the leaders of the OT church out of breath in the bad sense? He runs and runs till he hangs himself. Peter, by contrast, knows breathtaking in the good way by Jesus' grace. We know this by what he writes later. Of tasting of the kindness of the Lord (1 Pt. 2:3) of His care for sinners (Ibid., 5:7), of growing in the grace of his Lord and Savior (2 Pet. 3:18). Peter's not out of breath, but breathtaken by grace. May we be too. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Midweek III (20220316); Lord's Prayer, 4th Petition; Passion Reading 3