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Daily bread

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.

36 Comments

  1. christian wrote:

    I think this is right. It reinforces the fact that Jesus was a peasant speaking to other peasants. This was their honest daily prayer.

    The question this poses for me is, can I even pray this prayer, being that I am in no way shape or form a peasant? Can this be my prayer without doing serious damage to its original intent and audience?

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 11:56 am | Permalink
  2. Myles wrote:

    Must this kind of social location be required for “daily bread”?

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Permalink
  3. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I don’t really see what being “peasants” has to do with it. Jesus addressed a wide variety of people from different social locations through his ministry, and it seems to me that he called them all into the sort of dispossession that “daily bread” assumes.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Permalink
  4. Aric Clark wrote:

    This is absolutely how I understand this part of the prayer. Jesus continually references the prophets who were in turn referencing the Exodus in proclaiming that God would do a “new thing”, “make straight the ways in the desert” and so on. It is part of the prophetic theme of utter dependence on God. The lesson of exile seems, for the prophets, to have been that any attempt to secure our own fate whether via monarchy or military ends in disaster and the only time the people of Israel lived in true faithfulness was in the interim period in the desert prior to conquest where they were utterly dependent on God. They lived not only by bread (manna) but suspended between each word from the mouth of God – words which punctuate the journey with frequency and determine its length, direction, and relative safety at every point. I’m meandering now, but yes.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  5. christian wrote:

    You guys are kidding, right? Halden, what happened to all that talk about the poor? We don’t have to spiritualize this if we can just see it within it contexts. People in Galilee were peasants… is this somehow even in question?

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  6. christian wrote:

    Is trying to make soial location relevant to “daily bread” any different than trying to make it relevant “good news preached to the poor”?

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 1:41 pm | Permalink
  7. Halden wrote:

    Your comment above seemed to imply “Well Jesus was talking to peasants, to whom this applies. I’m not a peasant, so it doesn’t apply to me.” All I’m saying is that I don’t think we should try to get off the hook that way, especially since Jesus addressed people from a variety of social locations (which is indisputable) with different versions of the same calling into dispossession.

    Moreover, the fact that he was talking to peasants doesn’t seem to just interpret the statement, that was the point of my post. If “give us this day our daily bread” was just something that always-already made sense to peasants, why did Jesus have to teach it to them in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount? Why did these peasants continually tell him that his words were too great to bear and try to stone him if he was just regurgitating common agrarian sentiments? I’m suggesting that the Exodus narrative and the provision of the manna are clearly much more central to what Jesus is getting at here. Just saying “Well, they’re peasants” doesn’t tell us anything. Sure he’s talking to peasants, but he’s telling them the same thing he tells other folks, namely that they shouldn’t long for a renewed Israel, or their own national and cultural security, but should instead follow him. Peter and Andrew leave their nets and Matthew leaves his tax-collecting job. Different social locations, but again, the same calling.

    This is precisely about good news to the poor. The good news is that the kingdom of God is at hand and therefore this kind of dispossession is not in vain.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    Also, the prayer of a Galilean peasant was not “Give us this day our daily bread.” It was “Blessed are you, O Lord our God, king of the universe who brings forth bread from the earth[land].”

    By giving them this new prayer, this prayer for daily provision, granted from God alone rather than through the regular mediation of the land of Israel, Jesus was calling his audience into something new on the basis of his messianic vocation, and his belief that in his ministry and message the kingdom of God was at hand. He wasn’t just telling them to keep praying their present prayers. Not by any stretch.

    Now, I certainly agree that we may not have a clue what it would be like to pray the Galilean peasant’s prayer either. But the point is that it simply isn’t the same as the prayer that Jesus calls forth here.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 2:07 pm | Permalink
  9. christian wrote:

    I didn’t mean to imply that. I meant to state quite directly. But, I don’t mean take that mean I’m off the hook. It’s actually much more depressing than that. It is a serious and hard question for me: If Jesus is preaching good news to the poor… then I’m probably not who is talking to or about. What I hear in this is a deep challenge to reorient my life, specifically in terms of socio-economics.

    What I thought I was agreeing to in your post was most clearly stated when you wrote: “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?”

    If the quite literal dependence upon God for the essentials of our survival is not a socio-economic issue, then I am afraid I completely have misunderstood what you were communicating.

    And, not to nit-pick, but I do think there are other elements within that prayer that are not “new” or that wouldn’t immediately make sense to a peasant audience: thy kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven (is this not the cry of the prophets and all who were longing for deliverance?); forgiving debts and debtors would have been a huge part of these people’s live just being two.

    I certainly think the OT echo of a return to exile can be in there, and does seem to fit within the thrust of Jesus’s ministry, but I still think reading from a social location makes more immediate sense.

    And I am just saying that, at this level, I stand on the outside looking in. Like I do with so many other passages in the New Testament.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    One last thing. No one is trying to make “social location” irrelevant. The point is rather that Jesus’s message does not merely reflect the social location of his audience, rather he seeks directly to call people out of the conventions of their social location(s) into a new mode of peoplehood and mission (discipleship).

    I feel like the appeal to social location you’re making here amounts to saying something like “We can’t own or respond to Martin Luther King’s ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ because he wrote that in the 1960s to southern white clergyman. It is now 2011 and I am not a southern white clergyman, therefore I cannot really hear a message to me in his writing.”

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Permalink
  11. Halden wrote:

    Ok, that makes more sense. I think the right question is, “If this, then what might that mean for us?” Indeed, this is a socio-economic issue, not a “spiritual” one, and in that light one really ought to say that this applies much more to folks in a more secure social location than the original audience, not less.

    My only main point is that Jesus is challenging not just us, but his audience as well, peasants though they indeed be.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 2:24 pm | Permalink
  12. christian wrote:

    Well, I’m not excatly sure what I’m saying when it comes to this. But it has been something on my mind. Where you stand impacts how you read. There was a specific social location that Jesus (and Paul and the 12) were standing from/within when they worked, and taught, and wrote. I just wonder if I’m on the outside in some pretty substantial ways.

    I don’t have this figured out, but it sort of haunts me. Probably in good ways. And I’m certainly not giving up on letting the Gospel speak to, impact, invade, transform, etc. me.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Permalink
  13. Halden wrote:

    Yeah, I hear what you’re getting at now. And I agree that we are on the “outside.” Though I think the notion that there is a stable “inside” at least in terms of the Gospel needs questioning. Certainly the difference in social, cultural, and historical location is not to be underestimated, but it seems to me that everyone always stands “outside” before Jesus and his message. Or rather, we always find ourselves addressed from beyond ourselves with a Word that is not reducible to some kind of “inside” that we could own or produce.

    And yeah, that sort of liminal experience is very haunting, and often depressing. And its easier to ignore it as I know I do quite easily, to say nothing of the church (and Israel) as a whole.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Permalink
  14. christian wrote:

    I think, more recently, Dan Oudshoorn has been a “bad influence” on me, in this regard. The last chapter he sent me for the book he is working on sort of messed me up. In good but hard ways.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 2:54 pm | Permalink
  15. Hi Halden,
    Jewish NT prof Amy-Jill Levine & N.T. Wright (in “the Lord, and his prayer”) include a more eschatological reading of this part of the prayer, and a translation more along the lines of “give us this day, the bread of The Day.”, which roughly parallels ‘on earth as it is in heaven’. Give us in our present ‘earthly’ experience the (Eternal) quality of life that we will know in the ‘heavenly’ Age to Come. What do you think?

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Permalink
  16. Halden wrote:

    I’d have to read the book to really be sure, but I don’t want to let go of the connection with manna and the Exodus. Especially in light the clear parallelism between Israel wandering in the desert and Jesus’s baptism and forty days in the wilderness that precede the sermon on the mount.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 3:28 pm | Permalink
  17. I don’t suppose it could be both, could it? (eschatological manna?)

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 5:12 pm | Permalink
  18. indeed we pray for bread/manna for ‘this day’ to sustain us as we journey out of Egypt and anticipate the Bread/milk&honey of ‘The Day’ in the Promised Renewed Land

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 5:15 pm | Permalink
  19. Marvin wrote:

    FWIW, a panel presentation I sat in on at an AAR regional meeting last year pretty well demolished the idea that rural Galileans were an impoverished peasantry. The archaeological evidence indicates that there was considerable income variation in rural Galilee.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm | Permalink
  20. Gene McCarraher wrote:

    Any thoughts on what an economy “organized” around dispossession, patience, and gratitude would look like? Here are some thoughts on poverty by your friend and mine, Herbert McCabe:

    http://books.google.com/books?id=rEvoiX96kU4C&pg=PA53&dq=herbert+mccabe+poverty+and+god&hl=en&ei=ZthATciVJ8XOgAeH0d3kAg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CCQQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 6:29 pm | Permalink
  21. Gene McCarraher wrote:

    Wow — sorry about that sloppy paste job.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Permalink
  22. Christian wrote:

    I’d like to read this. Was it published in the AAR journal? Who were the panelists? This, it seems, would go against all that I’ve ever read about the socio-economics of rural Galilee.

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Permalink
  23. Marvin wrote:

    My reaction to this post is here:

    http://marvinlindsay.typepad.com/avdat/2011/01/daily-bread.html

    In short, voluntary apostolic poverty is not the only way to respond faithfully to prayer. To say that it is flies in the face of how apostolic poverty actually works, romanticizes poverty, mistakes a stage in life for the final destination, and is too individualistic a response.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 8:36 am | Permalink
  24. christian wrote:

    Marvin: You are wrong.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 9:50 am | Permalink
  25. dan wrote:

    Oh sure, blame me.

    I do think that the experience of manna in the wilderness was crucial to the development of the type of economics we see spoken about about and practiced by the Deuteronomic Law, Jesus, and Paul. Not only were people dependent upon God for the provision of daily bread and not only did God provide, but people were forbidden from gathering manna to have for the next day. This really cuts against pretty much all of our notions of private property and the accumulation and hoarding of possessions (i.e. fiscal and familial responsibility) that we have been taught to accept as moral living.

    Give us this day our daily bread… because we are not going to gather what we need in order to survive tomorrow. Yikes.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 10:15 am | Permalink
  26. Marvin wrote:

    The lead panelist was Mordechai Aviam from The Institute for Galilean Archaeology, Kinneret College, Israel. Doug Oakman from Pacific Lutheran University, author of a book titled Jesus and the Peasants, I believe, presented the traditional view. You may also want to read Sharon Lea Mattila’s article in the Spring 2010 CBQ about the origin of the concept of peasantry.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 10:18 am | Permalink
  27. Marvin wrote:

    Again, in the spirit of non being self-effacing, I am, in fact, right.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 10:20 am | Permalink
  28. Marvin wrote:

    “Not” instead of “non.” I was wrong about that.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 10:21 am | Permalink
  29. christian wrote:

    I think is is pretty clear from your attempts to liberate our reading of the gospel from any sort of social location that you are certainly not interested in doing anything that would be self-effacing or in any hermeneutic that would be self-implicating. So at least we’re all clear on that point.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 10:34 am | Permalink
  30. Erin wrote:

    Born into faith amongst amongst this daily bread/ poverty mentality, I have felt a lot more tension with it lately. Upon hearing a number of well-to-do grads were leaving jobs to live together in the inner city, a minister there remarked to us, “We don’t need more poor people here.”

    So I always get a bit afraid that these kind of conclusions are particularly white and ignore the realities of privilege and/or responsibility. But then I worry about how much evil is justified by “responsibility”. Thanks for conversing on it though: always appreciated.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 10:44 am | Permalink
  31. Marvin wrote:

    I was referring to the comment I made on the previous post, “The right thinking man.”

    I am not trying to “liberate our reading of the gospel from any sort of social location.” What I am asking for is less navel-gazing. Less theorizing about heroically throwing myself on God’s providence, more actual throwing ourselves into service of those who don’t have daily bread.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 11:10 am | Permalink
  32. erin wrote:

    erm, sorry for the poor post. My basic point is that somehow many descriptions of “utter dependence” lack something though we are clearly called to live as different citizens. I’m reminded of a discipleship preached to me early on that led to owning nothing but my clothes. I burnt out. And I wondered what right I had to having clothes. I think I fear that this is indeed what the Gospel message is so I defend against it, but I don’t like the easy binary solutions I always seem to resort to.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Permalink
  33. roger flyer wrote:

    Again I like your original thinking, Halden.

    Thursday, January 27, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Permalink
  34. Nathan Smith wrote:

    Having just read Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus, I’m seeing everything through a Jubilee lens. In that context, daily bread is the sign of God’s faithfulness when Israel lets the fields lay fallow in the sabbath year.

    Saturday, January 29, 2011 at 8:42 pm | Permalink
  35. kenny chmiel wrote:

    Halden great post, nice thought and very encouraging.

    Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink
  36. kenny chmiel wrote:

    On second and third reading of your post, I’m beginning to wonder about providence not being involved though. What I mean is that you seem to say that this text isn’t a matter of providence. You write

    “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.”

    Why can’t providence work with what you’re saying? I really don’t see a conflict. Am I missing something? I understand the standard interpretation of ‘be thankful for God’s help for food and other shit’ is a bit flat and the spin you put on it is nice, but can’t providence and your interpretation get along? I’m sure the interpretation of this text being somehow connected to Providence has a long tradition, and probably one that didn’t begin in fat America, which seems to lend to the idea that there might be something in it.

    Sunday, January 30, 2011 at 2:34 pm | Permalink

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