Monday, November 21, 2011

Trusting God for Daily Bread

The Bible study for yesterday’s International Sunday School Uniform Series lesson focused on the Lord’s Prayer. Not only is this a familiar Scripture passage, but it also is one that most Christians memorize. Many churches include this model prayer frequently in their liturgies. As is often the case, familiarity breeds . . . well, maybe not contempt, but at least indifference. We say the words so frequently (and often in the archaic King James Version) that we can become numb to its meaning.

I teach a Bible study class composed of Korean students associated with Carson-Newman College. Though we generally have the Scripture read in Korean, my teaching is solely in English. This means that in the case of a New Testament study like we had yesterday, I am moving from an English Bible text back to the text of the Greek New Testament and finally giving my expositions in English with occasional pauses for some particular point to be translated into Korean.

Yesterday as I tried to apply the Lord’s Prayer to our experiences as disciples, I found myself captured by the clause, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Most of us have at one time or another been introduced to alternate translations like, “Give us today our bread for tomorrow.” The Greek text states, “Our bread for tomorrow give us today”—though the exact meaning of “for tomorrow” is disputed. The Greek word sometimes is used for “today,” thus yielding “our bread for the current day.” At times its meaning is closely associated with the actual components of the word itself, which literally means “necessary for existence,” thus yielding “the bread we need to live.” More frequently, scholars think it refers to “the following day—tomorrow,” thus yielding “our bread for tomorrow.” Scholars have attributed all kinds of meaning to this expression. Some see an eschatological dimension to the petition, beseeching God to give us the promised blessings of the future right now. Understood this way, the clause parallels the invocation, “Thy kingdom come.”

I’m inclined toward the meaning, “Give us today our bread for tomorrow.” If we ask only for today’s bread, we will awake each morning with anxiety for that day’s sustenance. Each new day would have to begin with a petition for that day’s bread, and the issue of our basic sustenance would always be a high level of concern. This might well keep us focused on our dependence upon God, but I don’t think we could ever have the full and abundant life that Jesus promised if what’s on today’s menu is always an issue.

But think what it would mean for us to always have tomorrow’s bread in hand today. The assurance that our needs today were handled yesterday and our needs for tomorrow are already met sets us free to focus on life today as children of “our Father in heaven” (Matt. 6:9), as citizens of God’s “kingdom” (v. 10), as devoted followers on earth of God’s heavenly “will” (v. 10). This relieves us of the need for storing up “treasures on earth” (vv. 19ff). It resolves the tension between serving “God and mammon [wealth or money]” (v. 25). It frees us like “the birds of the air” and “the lilies of the field” to set aside worry about food and clothing and to focus on seeking first God’s “kingdom and righteousness” (v. 33). What a transforming experience we could have if we recognized that God is giving us tomorrow’s bread today.

But let me make another observation about this passage. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer for a community of faith, not solely for individuals. The only singular pronouns in the prayer refer to God. All the rest are plurals—our’s and us’s. We pray this prayer as a community of faith. All of our “my’s” and “mine’s” are blended together into “our’s.” When God answers this prayer, I believe it is answered in the plural and not in the singular. God gives us today our bread for tomorrow.

Jesus asserted that when forgiveness of trespasses, debts, and sins is found within the community (vv. 12,14-15), the church will find forgiveness (v. 14) and will store up treasures in heaven (vv. 20-21). In a similar manner, I believe that God most often answers the “give us today our bread for tomorrow” through the community that shares together its abundance and supports each member who is in need. In that sense, the prayer for our bread of tomorrow finds its answer first in the abundance found within the community of faith. Withholding abundance parallels the failure to forgive and has eternal consequences.

It was a liberating experience for me to discover in this prayer of promise that God will today supply my needs for tomorrow. It was a disturbing experience for me to discover that the community of faith that prays this prayer has high accountability in answering the petitions in the prayer—especially when it is the universal church of which I am a member that prays the prayer and that expects us together to be God’s answer, providing tomorrow’s bread today from the abundance within God’s community of faith.

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