“Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread…”

After a long hiatus, I’ll try to finish up the Holy Father’s reflections on the Lord’s Prayer in a timely manner. So far, we’ve looked at the introduction and first three petitions. This week, we’ll focus on the fourth, and perhaps most ‘human’ petition: “Give us this day our daily bread…”

After the first part of the prayer focuses solely on the goodness of God and the things of heaven (i.e. His will, power, name, etc.), Jesus suddenly throws in a petition for ‘bread.’ “We have the right and the duty to ask for what we need,” says Benedict. “We know that if even earthly fathers give their children good things when they ask for them, God will not refuse us the good things that he alone can give (cf. Lk 11:9-13).” (Jesus of Nazareth, p. 151) The bread Jesus speaks of certainly means real, actual bread, since He told his disciples that they ought not to worry about their daily sustenance but let the Father provide for them.

However, “bread” also makes us think of much more than ‘bread’ itself: the role of bread in Jesus’ ministry is undeniable; it appears everywhere “from the temptation in the desert and the multiplication of the loaves right up to the Last Supper.” (p. 155) Therefore, by asking the Father for bread we are really asking to share in the fullness of Christ’s mission. We are expressing our desire to see the earthly needs of all people met by the graciousness of God. Moreover, asking for this bread “presupposes the poverty of the disciples [ourselves]. It presupposes that there are people who have renounced the world, its riches, and its splendor for the sake of faith and who no longer ask for anything beyond what they need to live.” (p. 152) Christ calls us to ask for bread because he first calls us to be poor.

On a final little note, the Holy Father goes into an interesting discussion about the actual translation of the word, “daily.” In the original Greek text, the word epiousios is used; for most of us, that’s enough to confuse us, but the really confusing point is that this word is never found anywhere else in Scripture. Really, we don’t know what the translation should be because we simply don’t know what the word means. However, writes the pope, “the Fathers of the Church were practically unanimous in understanding the fourth petition of the Our Father as a eucharistic petition.” (p. 154) Whatever the original Greek word means, we do know that it signifies something super-normal – something that only God can provide us. This juxtaposition between “epiousios” and “bread” leads us to the underlying truth of this petition: namely, that God is the giver of both earthly and heavenly gifts, and that we must depend solely upon His goodness in all that we do.