Tuesday, July 24, 2007

(E) Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

[Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread] 'lehem' is also translated as food, but we often read it as bread. This is not surprising as bread is a universal staple for many different ethnic communities worldwide. It sustains life. The Sustainer provides these food to keep us alive. We cannot manufacture such food. Farmers are all aware that they can do all the seeding, all the planting and all the watering. One thing they cannot do is to force the growth. Growth is an expression of grace from God to all creation. When we ask God for grace, we ask with a thankful heart that our God is not a vengeful God, but a constantly forgiving God. Imagine a divine God who faithfully supplies our needs despite the massive idolatry going on in all the world, where people worship other gods and created things rather than the Creator. It amazes me how patient and loving God is.

This prayer is a prayer of a personal need. We recognize we are not all powerful to provide for our own. Even our jobs is an act of grace from others. Think back on those times when we are awaiting our first interview, our first job appointment. In desperate times, when one is prepared to 'do anything' just to get a job, they are fully aware that they are in need of grace. What a contrast, after working for a few years, employees start to exert their 'rights', and become complacent about what they have and they ask for more. They start to design their ideal jobs, and sometimes put their employers at a dilemma by going on strike. It is true that sometimes, employees need to speak out against injustice in the workplace. Likewise, it is unfortunate that some employees tend to take advantage of their jobs, without sufficient regard for changing business conditions and the needs of the company. Our daily bread can also be understood as daily providence for our other needs, not only physical. There is a subtle difference between personal and individual. In prayer, one never enters God's presence as an 'individual' because the angels, the cloud of witnesses are always with him/her. It is personal in the sense that one is allowing his/her personhood to make that request, within the context of a community. This means that one allows his/her unique self and special circumstances to ask, not only for his/her own needs but how by receiving such needs, can one bless the community around. Since God makes everyone personally special, one comes to God in that personal capacity, and be blessed together. A true person has meaning only within an identified community, rather than a hermit lifestyle all the time.

This prayer is a prayer of a corporate kind. We ask for bread, not an individual bun. A loaf of bread is to be shared. We slice bread from a common dough. It is something that is best eaten together as a body. It is an opportunity to eat together so that we can build up relationships around. God is pleased to use food as a channel to bless communities. I am part of a bread pickup community, to collect bread from a bakery on weekends and to help distribute it to the needy on certain weekends for charitable purposes. It is a labour of love, and gratifying to see it as a means to bring some form of joy and happiness to the recipients. Bread has a universal appeal. Interestingly, the range of bread we have makes one feel spoilt for choice.

This prayer is a daily request. It is not simply a one sided request. It is an opportunity for God to hear our needs. It is one thing to give things regularly. It is yet another to hear a request. Imagine giving money to a third world country and receiving no news from them about how they are doing. It is always important to keep in touch as the giving is to people, not machines. It is one thing to throw in a quarter or a dime into a charity box, a faceless entity. It is yet another to give money to a human person. We cannot restrict donations, giving and receiving to merely a transaction. It will render things very impersonal. Relationships are never formed through a one-shot, one time event. It is by regular communion and constant keepingn in touch can it be built up. This prayer reminds us that it must be done regularly.

This prayer refers to 'this day', implying a limited request to a day only (yom). We should not worry too much about the future. Live a day at a time for tomorrow will have their set of worries and problems to take care of. The Lord understands our limitations. In this era of planning and time management techniques, we teach each other that those who fail to plan, plan to fail. Or those who aim at nothing will surely hit at nothing. We may become too paranoid that the planning for the future becomes worrying about the future. This prayer teaches us humility to trust the Lord to provide for us a day at a time, just like how he provides for the Israelites daily manna during their times in the wilderness.

τὸν ἄρτον ἡμῶν τὸν ἐπιούσιον δὸς ἡμῖν σήμερον•

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