Daily bread.

by K.W. Leslie, 29 September

Matthew 6.11, Luke 11.3.

Whenever we read Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, or any of his other teachings, they make way more sense when we remember his audience at the time consisted of poor people.

In the United States, “poor” usually means you don’t have a lot of money, and live within limited means. In ancient Israel, “poor” meant you had no money. Maybe you had stuff to barter; usually not. You lived from job to job, from harvest to harvest, doing the best you could with what few resources you had. Any time you did have money, taxmen would take it away, priests and Pharisees would demand you give it to temple, or rich people would con you out of it.

So when Jesus speaks on money, possessions, or economics: His audience seldom had those things. We do have these things. Even our “poor” have these things. We’re very blessed.

So. We recognize when Jesus, in the Lord’s Prayer tells us to pray for daily bread, he doesn’t literally mean bread; he means food in general. That interpretation is fine. But so many Americans expand it: “Oh he doesn’t necessarily mean food; he means spiritual food. He means we’re to do the will of his Father, Jn 4.34 so we’re to ask God for the strength and power to do that.” Or, if they’re more into Mammon and materialism, they claim it means financial food: Give us this day our weekly paycheck, that with it we might pay our bills and buy whatever we covet.

And yeah, we recognize we should go to God first when we want anything, and submit to his will when he tells us yes or no. But when Jesus told us to pray for daily bread, it’s not a metaphor for our every necessity or desire. It’s about sustaining our lives. We need food so we can live. We need to recognize our dependence on God for our lives. So when he says pray for daily bread, pray for daily bread.

Yeah, you can pray for spiritual growth too. You can pray for money. You can ask God for anything, and he’s not stingy. But don’t go reading your various other desires into the Lord’s Prayer, and pray for those things instead of what Jesus told us to pray for. Pray for bread.

And specifically, pray for tomorrow’s bread. Because that’s a better translation of what Jesus commanded.

Tomorrow’s bread today.

I know; “Give us this day our daily bread” is how the Book of Common Prayer and KJV render it, so it’s the form we’re most familiar with. But “daily” translates the word ἐπιούσιον/epiúsion, “for the coming [day].” If you pray this prayer first thing in the morning, today’s “the coming day,” but we don’t just pray the Lord’s Prayer first thing in the morning. We pray it any time of day; we might pray it all day long. And for this reason it’s actually not about today’s bread. It’s about tomorrow’s.

Matthew 6.11 KWL
“Give us tomorrow’s bread today.”
Luke 11.3 KWL
“Give us tomorrow’s bread each day.”

Ancient Christian writer Origen of Alexandria speculated the -úsion part of epiúsion was οὐσία/usía, “existence,” and therefore epiúsion might also mean “for existence.” Various translators went with that, and interpret the Lord’s Prayer as “Give us this day our necessary bread.” Although “daily” works too. But St. Jerome, who translated the gospels for the Vulgate, mentioned he found epiúsion had been translated in an Hebrew-language gospel as מָחָר/makhár, “tomorrow.” He still went with Origin’s idea, and translated it supersubstantiali—“necessary for existence”—but I’m pretty sure the Hebrew gospel got it right.

Because Jesus wants us to access his kingdom’s resources. He’s not teaching us to seek the bare minimum; for however much food it’ll take to sustain us one day at a time. He’s teaching us to seek tomorrow’s bread. The future’s bread. The kingdom’s bread. Abundance, not rations. God’s unlimited treasury, not our tiny pantries. When Jesus asked for “daily bread,” he had enough to feed 5,000. Don’t limit God!

And yeah, we can extrapolate God’s generosity to mean we can ask for kingdom-level quantities of anything and everything. But do fight the temptation to be greedy about this. Too many Christians have adopted the prosperity gospel’s mindset, in which they only wanna be rich and comfortable and pampered, and don’t wanna help the needy with any of it. “God blessed me, so let him bless you; it’s not my concern.” No no no. Bad Christian. Love your neighbor. God’s grace to us always needs to be paid forward. Greed is the antithesis of generosity and grace, and it’s a mindset we need to wipe out before we can even ask something as small as daily bread.