The Lord’s Prayer – Give Us Our Daily Bread

Tonight we are gathering to read through the third and fourth petitions of the Lord’s Prayer – “Thy will be done on earth as it is Heaven” and “Give us this day, our daily bread.”  Please read the remainder of chapter 9 of Bailey. (And if you don’t read, please come anyway!)

One great mystery in this petition is the word translated as “daily.” Bailey sets forth Origen of Alexandria’s discussion on this point. The Greek word describing the bread (epiousios) is not found anywhere else in Scripture nor is the word employed anywhere else in all of Greek literature or common speech.  Since Jesus did not pray in Greek, the word appears to have been invented by Matthew. This uncertainty helps give rise to the differing interpretations of the petition. This word has been translated as “daily” or “needful” but in the patristic era was generally translated as “super-substantial” which means transcending physical substance. (Epi– means “beyond” and ousios means “substance.”)  Bailey has a good discussion of the history and meaning of the word. An alternative discussion is HERE. (Msgr. Charles Pope, June 17, 2010)  

There are four layers of interpretation of this petition:  physical, scripture, eternal, and communal. 

PHYSICAL: In the first instance, in this petition we pray for our daily physical sustenance.  In this way, as John Calvin says, “we cast our care upon him, and commit ourselves to his providence, that he may feed, foster, and preserve us.” Institutes 3.20.44. As Jesus later says in the Sermon, “be not anxious about your life . . .  for behold the birds of the air [and] . . .  consider the lilies of the field.” Matt 6:25-34. In praying for our daily sustenance we hand over our anxieties to God.  The petition is not simply for bread but for our daily bread, thus cautioning us against the hoarding of God’s bounty. We see in the story of God’s giving of manna, that the Israelites gathered only what they needed on a daily basis, and any kept until the next day spoiled. Ex 16:16-21.  This shows us that we should depend upon God but should not become greedy in his gifts.  I have attached Witsius’s commentary on this petition where he methodically draws the physical meaning of each of the words of this petition. If you have time, please read through this analysis.

SCRIPTURAL: This petition likewise refers to our daily spiritual sustenance.  In Deuteronomy, Moses tells the Israelites that God “humbled you and let you hunger and fed you manna . . . that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” Deut. 8:3. This is the same verse Jesus quotes to Satan when, after fasting for forty days, Satan tells Jesus to turn stones into bread. Matt. 4:4. Therefore “our daily bread” may refer to the Scriptures themselves, and we pray that God may keep us daily within his Scriptures. Our Daily Bread is a great resource to help you remain in this petition.

ETERNAL: On a deeper level, this petition refers to Christ himself, the supersubstantial bread, by which our souls are sustained and nourished to life eternal.  As Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” John 6:48-50.  As Tertullian writes, “When we ask for our daily bread, we are asking that we should perpetually be in Christ and that we should not be separated from his body.” It is this bread, as Origin writes “which gives nourishment to the true humanity, which is made in the image of God, and so whoever is so nourished grows into the likeness of the creator.”  The physical manifestation of this bread, of course, is the Eucharist itself.  For as Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this Bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51. And therefore we pray that we remain, as John Wesley says, in Constant Communion with him.  It is in response to this petition that the ancient church offered the Eucharist daily and why many liturgical churches retain this practice.

COMMUNAL: Finally, our daily bread may refer to the Church community.  The Didache (or Teaching) is a late first-century Christian handbook dealing with Christian ethics, the dominical Sacraments, and church order.  Its Eucharistic prayer found in chapter 9 says “Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let your Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom.”  And therefore, as we pray for our daily bread, we pray for Christ to daily gather us in that fellowship of his Church.  For we are the bread as well. Again, this is why many churches (which the BCP anticipates) offer daily worship services for within these services all aspects of our daily bread – physical, scriptural, eternal, and communal – are present. 

Dinner is at 6. The menu is homemade Chinese. Discussion about 6:45. (You don’t have to have read anything to come and participate.) Hope to see you here. Please bring a friend.

Father, we thank thee who has planted
Thy holy name within our hearts.
Knowledge and faith and life immortal
Jesus thy Son to us imparts.
Thou, Lord, didst make all for thy pleasure,
Didst give us food for all our days,
Giving in Christ that Bread Eternal;
Thine is the Power, be thine the Praise

Watch o’er thy Church, O Lord, in mercy,
Save it from evil, guard it still
Perfect it in they love, unite it
Cleansed and conformed unto thy will.
As grain, once scattered on the hillsides
Was in this broken bread made one,
So from all lands thy Church be gathered
Into thy kingdom by thy Son.

F. Bland Tucker, 1982 Hymnal 302

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