Teach Us To Pray for Daily Bread


Something changes at this point in the Lord's Prayer. We go from the "Thy" petitions to the 'our' petitions. From praying about God's name, kingdom and will, we go to praying for our daily bread, forgiveness, temptation, and deliverance. Luther saw the change this way: God answers our first 3 petitions. He hallows His name and brings His kingdom thereby doing His will. This causes, quite literally, all hell to break loose against us. We see that we are no match for this, and so begin to cry out fervently for ourselves and for fellow Christians saying: give us our daily bread, forgive us our sins, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

A significant change happens at this point in the Lord's Prayer which begins with the petition before us tonight: give us this day our daily bread. But what are we praying for when we ask for bread? Our Catechism clearly says, "Daily bread includes everything that has to do with the support and needs of the body." Yet, there is a paradox. In one and the same Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us to pray in Matthew 6:11, "Give us this day our daily bread." But in Matthew 6:25 Jesus says, "Do not be anxious for your life as to what you shall eat or what you shall drink." He goes on to say in verse 31 and 32, "Do not be anxious...For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things...Therefore do not be anxious for tomorrow."

Is the focus of our prayer really earthly bread? The feeding of the 5000 would seem to argue against this. There the multitude was amazed at the mighty miracle of Jesus feeding thousands of people, so they followed Him across the Sea of Galilee. Jesus rebukes their devotion saying to them, "You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled." Jesus wanted nothing to do with being a Bread King. He wanted nothing to do with those who sought Him to gain earthly bread. He called people to the cross, to doing without in this world, not to being filled with the bread of this life.

So, what do we do with our Catechism which clearly does focus on earthly bread? First, know that Luther did also understand the prayer, "Give us this our daily bread," as reference to Jesus being the Bread of Life and as a specific reference to the Bread of Holy Communion. We'll look at this in detail, but for now, you should know that he taught this even before he wrote the Small and Large Catechisms. However, at the time he was writing the Catechisms a controversy raged with those who denied that Christ was really present in the Lord's Supper. These folks had taken comments Luther had made about the Lord's Supper in connection with other Bible passages and twisted them. So in the Catechism, Luther took pains to keep it simple.

But still ought we to be praying for bread? The Old Testament does. Paul does in the New Testament too. There are many passages where people pray for the things necessary to sustain this body and life, so our Lord telling us to pray for, literally, "bread for today" really isn't strange. Actually, it's comforting. Jesus compresses all the things we need for living - "food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, home, land, animals, money goods, a devout spouse, devout children, devout workers, devout and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, self-control, good reputation, good friends, faithful neighbors and the like"- into one word, bread. You don't have to rack your brain trying to remember everything you might need. You don't have to feel bad when you don't even know what earthly thing you need to pray for; it's all in that word, bread. And when you're concerned about kids, grandkids, friends, relative, know that you've prayed for their needs too because you pray, "give US OUR bread" not "give ME MINE."

But we're praying for more than just our earthly bread. You can't tell me that you haven't sensed that. Jesus says in John 6 that He is the true Bread of life. God the Father tells us "Man doesn't live by bread alone." Jesus takes bread and says, "This is My Body." All along you've had a suspicion that you were praying for more than material bread. I think our Lutheran Table Prayer points us this direction. We pray, "Come Lord Jesus be our guest, let these gifts to us be blest." We ask for not just bread on our table, but Jesus, the true Bread of life, at our table. Finally, you've prayed the Lord's Prayer your whole life in connection with the Words of Institution. The Lord's Prayer has always been said in connection with the Communion liturgy. It seems like all along the people of God have seen a relationship.

There are good, textual reasons for regarding the prayer for bread as asking for both earthly food and heavenly food. In both places the Lord's Prayer appears, Jesus is being redundant in this short petition if the word we translate "daily" really means that. Matthew has, "Our bread the daily give to us today." Luke has, "Our bread the daily give to us each day." But what if the word we translate "daily" really doesn't mean that? Don't think this is farfetched. The Greek word being translated here is found for certain in ancient Greek literature only here in the Lord's Prayer, so we can't compare how it's used other places to determine what it means here.

If you break the Greek word down, it either comes from a verb meaning 'to be' or one meaning "to come." In English, people have settled on the 'to be' meaning which gives the translation "daily bread." This, however, as I said, makes the short petition redundant, "give us our daily bread today." Others, have followed the 'to come' meaning which gives a translation "give us our bread for tomorrow, today." Give us the Bread which we need for the tomorrow of everlasting life, today. Give us Jesus the Bread we need for an eternity of tomorrows today in Word and Sacrament.

In church history church fathers first held the view that the bread refers to Jesus and particularly to Jesus in Communion. Then church fathers held the view that the bread refers to material things. There were, however, church fathers who viewed it both ways. Tertullian, 200 A.D., Cyprian, 250 A.D. and Augustin, 400 A.D., viewed the bread first as referring to Jesus, the Bread needed for heaven, and second as the bread we need to live on earth. This seems to be where Luther was too. In 1519, in his Exposition of the Lord's Prayer, he wrote that Christ the Bread was given to us first in the Word and second in the Sacrament of the Altar. In 1522, in his Personal Prayer Book, he said, "The bread, the Word, and the food are none other than Jesus Christ our Lord Himself." Then 7 years later, in the Catechisms of 1529, Luther speaks of the bread as referring to earthly, material things.

I think the best way to take this petition is both ways. That's the petition in all of its fullness. It shows our heavenly Father concerned not just with our bread for today but with the Bread of Life we need for the tomorrow of everlasting life. Whether or not you think Jesus in Word and Sacrament is being referred to when you pray for bread in the Lord's Prayer is not critical for your eternal salvation. What is critical is knowing that Jesus must give us both our physical bread and be our spiritual Bread.

Think of the Passion History. Once Jesus leaves the upper room, Thursday night, we have no record of Him getting anything to eat or drink until He got vinegar wine on the cross right before He died. None of Jesus' physical needs were taken care. This wasn't the case for others. Jesus stooped to take care of the bodily need of washing the disciples' feet. In Gethesmane He cared for the high priest servant's bodily need to have his ear healed. On the cross, in the depths of His agonized suffering for our sins, Jesus saw to it that the bodily needs of His mother would be met once He was gone. And even in the upper room on Easter evening, though the disciples were locked in for fear of the Jews, though they were mourning for their dear Jesus, still they had food.

In the Passion History, the only one who is noticeably without food, drink, clothing, and shoes is Jesus. Yet, He is the only One who deserved to have His daily bread. Though the whole organized church of that day tried to prove Jesus was guilty of something, Pilate, an experienced trial judge, declares 3 times, "I find no basis for a charge against Him." Even King Herod, who knew the Jewish religion better, couldn't find any charge against Jesus. God the Father even went to the extraordinary lengths of sending Pilate's wife a dream from which she was able to conclude that Jesus was an innocent Man.

Jesus deserved food and drink. What happened to Elijah should've happened to Him. The birds of the air should've fluttered down to Jesus with bread and meat in their beaks. What happened to the Church in the Old Testament should've happened to Jesus. Water should've gushed forth from rocks and manna should've rained from heaven. Even if Jesus had been able to do what the Jewish leaders wanted to do that evening, that is eat the Passover, it would have been fairer.

But Jesus received no Bread not for earth or heaven. He got what we deserve. He got punished for our sins. Because we get our back up against those who make us mad, Jesus back was torn into bloody hamburger by a solider's whip. Because we have such, filthy, vile, disgusting thoughts running through our heads, a crown of thorns is jammed down upon the holy head of Christ. Because our sins are scarlet, red, flaming things obvious to everyone but us, Jesus was clothed not in a purple robe (I have no idea where the NIV gets 'purple.'), but in a scarlet one. Scarlet befits the notorious sinner Jesus was in the eyes of God.

You've got to see that already in our text, indeed from His first moment in the womb of the Virgin Mary, Jesus is paying for our sins. It wasn't only on the cross that He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. It wasn't only on the cross that what He did was redemptive, saving. Right here in our text, He's paying for our sins, so we might have salvation. He goes without daily bread: the mouth that eats it is beaten, the throat that swallows it is swollen with thirst, the stomach that digests it is pounded with fists, just so that the Father might give us not just bread for today but bread for a tomorrow that never ends.

The Father never turns a deaf ear to our plaintive plea, "Give us this day our daily bread." That's what Jesus won for us by His painful Passion. O yes, we sin. O yes, our sins our scarlet. O yes, they are shameful deserving of beatings, mocking, whipping, crucifying, and damning, but our sins have already been paid for by Jesus Christ. So not even our sinfulness can get in the way of our Father giving us the bread we need for this life and the Bread we need for the next.

When you say this petition, what do you think of? Bread for the body or Bread for the soul? Well what we think is not important. Jesus is the One who gave up His body so that we might have bread, and Jesus is the One who gives us His Body in Bread. He knows when we pray for bread whether we need bread for the body, the soul, or both. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Wednesday, Lent III (3-6-02), 4th Petition