In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus instructs his disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” From this one phrase a whole aura of sentimentality has been generated about “depending on God” for our food, a task that is ever so hard for middle class American Christians because, after all, we are so used to thinking that our food is something secure, that we provide for ourselves and we really don’t have to pray too hard about. Praying for “our daily bread” then, is little more than an exercise in reminding ourselves that, after all, ultimately God is in control and we need to not forget that.
In reading through Exodus last night it struck me how utterly wrong this whole way of thinking is in light of the biblical referent that is surely attached to “our daily bread.” What image could “daily bread” conjure up if not the daily gift of manna that God provided for Israel during their sojourn in the desert after leaving Egypt? The only “daily bread” that Israel has ever known was the daily allotment of bread that they received during those forty years wandering in the desert, bereft of any sort of landedness, security, or resources. There indeed, “daily bread” has real meaning. It is an utterly unproduced, unearned, insecure gift for which they can only hope in God’s promise.
When Jesus then instructs his disciples to pray for “our daily bread” ought we not — instead of thinking that this is just an injunction to remember God’s providential enforcement of that which we have already secured — realize that in calling his followers to pray in this way Jesus is calling us back into the desert with Israel. Out of the security of land, possessions, cultural production and into a life of sojourning in which we, once again, are given to depend, quite literally on God for the essentials of survival? Jesus envisions his community of followers, not as a restored Israel, or as Israel returned from exile. No, quite the opposite, he envisions his followers as a new Exodus community, a community liberated from slavery, and finding themselves so liberated (and often not knowing what to do with, or wanting that freedom) are now thrust into a complete loss of all securities save God and his unprecedented and unearned sustenance.
In short, it seems to me that for Jesus “daily bread” really means “daily bread,” not happy thoughts about how God is in control. He envisions his followers as a new band of post-Exodus nomads who possess nothing but hope in God for daily sustenance.