Give us today our daily bread
Read Luke 11 – Common English Bible
The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that has been in our prayer book since the beginning. We know there is an “old” version, and a “newer” version. We may even have seen the New Zealand version. But let us go back to the original in the Gospel. What do we find there? What does it have to say to us?
First I want to look at the words themselves, then at the context, which is always important.
So when we look at the words, what do we find? Do you see how short it is? The end of what we know as “the Lord’s Prayer” is missing! Some of it was simply added on later, as a liturgical element, like we find in the end of the Collect, where it says “for ever and ever, Amen!” That “for ever and ever” is a liturgical element. It just sounds right to end a prayer that way when you have heard it over and over again. Remember that the people who first heard this from Jesus were very religious Jews who prayed at least three times a day. So it makes sense that the “normal” ending would be put on.
Also, this is Jesus’ response to their request – not to pray, but to teach them how to pray. OK, so here we are looking at the context to make sense of what we see here. What we know is that this happens at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – which is also the ending of John the Baptist’s ministry. John was running around the countryside teaching and preaching a gospel of repentance. He had disciples gathered around him. People called him “the Prophet.” Remember a few weeks ago, if someone was called “The Prophet” they were referring to the prophet Elijah.
Jesus, while John is doing this, seems to have been out of the country. There is great speculation about this, that Jesus was studying with the great masters in India, and so on, but no one really knows. What we do know is that Jesus bursts back onto the scene in Judea, and there is somewhat of a power struggle between the two of them. John’s disciples come to Jesus and ask, are we wrong to follow John? Are you the One? The answer Jesus gives is instructive for us. Look at what is going on, he says. The blind are seeing, the deaf are hearing, and the poor are having good news preached to them. Some of John’s disciples had come over to Jesus.
Jesus, they say, teach us how to pray, like John has taught his disciples to pray. So let us start before the beginning. How many times have I heard, “Oh, I don’t know how to pray.” Well, it needs to be taught, and that means that we can learn. It is not something that we simply should “know” how to do. Then, we need to think about this idea that these are the directions that Jesus gave – this was not “his” prayer, that is, this would not have been the prayer he prayed, this was his “how-to” for the disciples.
When we think about instructions, we realize that they are not the same as doing the thing itself. So the Lord’s Prayer that we have is both a prayer and instruction on how to pray. What are the instructions? Father, uphold the holiness of your name.
Bring in your kingdom.
Give us the bread we need for today.
Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who has wronged us.
And don’t lead us into temptation.’”
Walter Wink, a contemporary theologian, suggested that the verb tense was the first instruction, and it is emphasized by the passage that immediately follows. That is, this is all in the imperative. This is not any kind of wishy-washy “well maybe God, if you want to do this, maybe you can get around to it some time in the next decade?” No, it asks God to do these things. It starts out by addressing God as Father – and then in the next couple of paragraphs, Jesus asks, which father among you would not give good things to a child that came and asked? How much more should we expect our heavenly father to want good for us?
If we don’t get the picture from that, then there is the neighbor. To really understand this, we have to go look at the context. I recently read about something called a sleeping kimono. It reminds me of a sleeping bag, but with the arms cut so you can put your hands out, and the bottom open. If I wanted to keep my children warm, I would keep them next to me in the sleeping kimono, not off by themselves! Well, in Jesus’ time, a man’s outer garment was essentially a blanket, cut so you could wear it as a garment during the day, but then you could flatten it out and use it to sleep in at night. A whole family could use it – which is why the man does not want to get up when his neighbor comes and asks for bread. It is not simply a matter of him getting up, he has to disrupt the entire family.
But then what does Jesus say? He will not get up because of his friendship – but he will get up because the neighbor has been such a pest. Jesus is inviting us to pester God, telling us that this is the way you pray.
So after we have established that we are addressing a Father God that wants good for us, the first things we start out with have to do with things about God, not us. Uphold the holiness of your name, and bring in your kingdom. Another translation I have seen of this says “Make your name holy among the peoples” and “may your reign come on earth.” What I understand of this is that we get very clear that God is God, and that we are not, and we need for ourselves to remember that God is God and we are not. Furthermore, we say we want more of what God wants. On earth, as in heaven, as above, so below. Which means, what happens here is of interest above. So how I understand this is that the little things that we do and don’t do here on earth are of interest above. What we do, and don’t do, makes a difference.
So we start with God, and after that is established, then we ask for “bread.” What is this saying? The better translation is “give us today the things we need for the day.” There are a couple of important concepts here: need and today. What is it that we need? God wants us to have those things that we need. Does that mean everything that we want? I’m afraid not. And the other piece is this day, we are to ask for what we need today, not tomorrow. This is sooooo hard! We want to make sure that things are taken care of, we buy insurance for this and that, we try very hard to pay attention to all of the details so that “things” are taken care of. Jesus says no, it’s only about today. As the 12 step people say, it’s one day at a time. They are often referring to getting through one day without succumbing to their addiction, but this is the other side of that same coin. We have an addiction to security, a fear that God will not take care of us, that things will not be OK. Do we not trust that this loving God will take care of us? Well, no, we don’t.
Then we get to the stickiest item of all: forgiveness. Jesus says: ask God to forgive your sins, because we forgive everyone who has wronged us. Uh oh! When I was growing up, my father was Methodist and my mother was Presbyterian, so we knew that there were two ways to say the Lord’s Prayer. The Methodists, like the Episcopalians, said trespasses, and the Presbyterians said debts. Of course, we made jokes on both sides, but no one talked about this tie between God forgiving us the things we have done wrong in God’s eyes, because we forgive everyone who has wronged us.
So there is an incredibly important question: who has wronged you? When I posed that question, did someone jump into your awareness? It did for me! Then I have to decide, do I follow Jesus, do I choose to forgive, or not?
Remember that forgiving simply means refusing to hold anger. So then the question goes: do I follow Jesus, do I refuse to hold the anger, or not? There is no question about whether the person has wronged us. What it says is: “we forgive everyone who has wronged us.” The person has wronged us. That is not a question. The question is this: do we hold the anger? There is also no question about getting angry in the first place. Of course we get angry, because we were wronged! That is a normal human response, and we really do not have any control over that initial response. What we do have total control over is whether we hold the anger or not. What Jesus says is very clear. “Let it go. Let it all go. That is the way to freedom. That is the way to life.”
What do you think? Are you ready to release that old anger? It may be a very small thing, it may be huge. It does not matter. What matters is the holding, and the letting go. When we think we cannot let go, even though we want to, then we ask God for help to let go, and we will get that help. For some of us, that will be our bread for today, that will give us life today, that will be all we need.
As we come forward to receive the bread of heaven, let us release the memories of pain so that we can rise up in joy to meet the one who loves us more than life itself.