Give Us This Day
Everything before this line in the Lord’s Prayer is either an address, an identification, or a wish or desire. To whom are we praying? The Father, who has given us the grace to become his children. How can we pray to him? He is in heaven, that created “place” that he has provided so that he is accessible to us. And our first wish, our strongest desire, is that throughout the universe his Name would be hallowed and his will done.
But now we ask. Grammatically, it is the imperative voice. Give us. Not even a “please,” not even an indirect “O that thou wouldst give us”: it’s a straightforward command. Give us this day our daily bread.
If this were the first time you ever heard this prayer, what a shock it would be! You mean that I—we—mere human beings, creatures of this creator Father: we are just supposed to tell him what to do? We are to make demands of God?
Yes. We are to tell him to do this: Give us this day our daily bread. Jesus has told us to pray with these words, in this way. We are the Father’s children, instructed by Jesus, commanded by Jesus, to make this command of the Father.
What are we asking for? Simply, it’s what we need to exist through the day that is at hand. We don’t ask for next week’s bread or for a new job next year, but rather for what we need here and now.
I have learned that the words “our daily bread” have a resonance of the ultimate future, as if to ask for “our daily bread” is to ask to receive, now, a foretaste of the kingdom for whose coming we have already expressed our longing. In this sense, “our daily bread” may be a suggestion of the Eucharist. I have also heard that “our daily bread” could be taken as “our bread for the morrow,” which would open up the horizon slightly to include the relevant future, the future into which we are called to act.
This line of the prayer opens us up to the dignity of our moral calling. To ask for our daily bread is to ask that God give us rightly to act this day, so that what we do may be pleasing to him and bear its proper fruit.
With this line, the Lord’s Prayer punctures grandiosity. It denies us our vain speculations of what great things we might do in a nebulous future that stretches before us, and it requires us to focus on the day at hand, the future that is before us right now. I may need, today, to plan for next fall’s program. I may need, today, to prepare for the baby who will be born six months from now. But what I need is not to fantasize the future but to do what must be done today.
It’s very healthy, this focus of Jesus’ prayer. We go from the great cosmic truths about God and great cosmic aspirations for the healing of the world . . . down to the narrow focus of ourselves at this time and this place. Without hesitation, we tell God to give us exactly what we need, exactly where we are, exactly when we need it.
Of course, we also need God to enlighten our minds so that we know what we need! Give us this day our daily bread—and give us eyes to see what it is!
Out & About. This Saturday and Sunday, June 15-16, I am to preach at All Souls’ Church in Oklahoma City: Saturday at 5:30 p.m., Sunday at 8 and 10 a.m.
Sunday, June 30, I am to preach at the traditional services at Church of the Incarnation in Dallas: 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.