Over And Underfamiliarity With Matthew Over and Underfamiliarity with Matthew 6:11 Hearing something repeatedly can diminish its significance. I suspect that this is particularly true of Scripture. Overfamiliarity with a biblical passage can contribute to its misunderstanding. Sometimes it can reduce a profound saying to nothing more than a clich. The Lord’s Prayer (Mt. 6:9-13) ranks among the most popular passages in the New Testament. Most people who regularly attend a church can recite it from memory.
It is a prayer that we have heard and said many times. One of the more memorable lines of the prayer is Give us this day our daily bread (Mt. 6:11). Let us pause for a moment and consider this entreaty phrase by phrase. The line begins with the blunt imperative, Give us! This is a curious manner in which to address God.
I have heard parents scold a spoiled child for using similar language.* The middle phrase is this day. I suppose that Jesus intended for his disciples to say this prayer each morning, as they looked forward to God’s provision throughout the day.** The third and final phrase is our daily bread, which seems simply to mean the necessary portion of food that a disciple needed to sustain him or herself. Apparently, Jesus taught his disciples to expect that God would meet their fundamental needs day by day. For the majority of Christians who live in Western Europe, North America, and other prosperous areas, Give us this day our daily bread has little relevance. As audacious as this assertion may be, it can be easily verified: simply go to the nearest refrigerator and take inventory of its contents. This line of the prayer is largely irrelevant for me, too.
My kitchen contains ample food for at least a week. Unfamiliarity with Jesus’ social and religious environment can also muffle the significance of his words. Give us this day our daily bread makes excellent sense within the rich conceptual world of late Second Temple-period Judaism. More specifically, this imperative aimed at God belongs to the culture of what would be called at a later time talmud Torah (the joining of oneself to a sage in order to learn Torah from him). Jesus gathered disciples around himself like the tannaic rabbis would continue to do in the second century A.D.
Jesus’ agenda, however, was distinctive in that it centered on the Kingdom of Heaven. His agenda was firmly rooted in Israel’s Torah. He never dishonored nor violated it,*** but in focusing upon God’s Kingdom he stretched its parameters. Jesus’ demands for entering the Kingdom of Heaven were high. Among them was a readiness to leave family, property and careers (cf.
Lk. 5:11, 28; 14:25-33; 18:22). After a person joined Jesus’ band of disciples, the demands for remaining at the center of God’s Kingdom remained high. Give us this day our daily bread resonates with the values and priorities of this cultural context. Jesus expected his followers to make moving with God’s redemptive activity their priority.
Once committed to this program, they had no reason to worry about their basic necessities — food, clothing and shelter. God would take care of these. Jesus reiterated similar ideas on other occasions. Just before sending out his disciples two by two, he said: The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few .. Go your way .. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals .. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you ..
heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The Kingdom of God has come near to you’ (Lk. 10:2-9). As the conclusion for a short homily on anxiety, he exhorted his audience, Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So, do not worry about tomorrow .. The day’s troubles will take care of themselves (Mt. 6:33-34).
(These things refers to food, drink and clothing.) These sayings of Jesus were apparently not intended as hyperbole or metaphor. Jesus said what he meant. Our hectic lifestyles and the prosperity and materialism of modern, Western society make them, however, difficult to accept. When a sprawling food market is just minutes away by foot, and fewer by car, Give us our daily bread resists a literal interpretation. Nevertheless, despite the difficult choices of re-ordering priorities and re-building the marco-structure of a lifestyle — which are often necessary for entering the Kingdom of Heaven — tremendous liberty and privilege accrue to those who make them.
They may confidently pursue a life full of assisting those in need: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, educating the unlearned, visiting those in prison and hospital, caring for the forgotten, and praying for the sick. Such a program can be pursued without the financial backing of a charitable organization or church. It requires only the vision, tenacity and fortitude to pray Give me this day my daily bread! *Note the Parable of the Spoiled Son in Joseph Frankovic’s The Power of Parables, Jerusalem Perspective 48 (Jul.-Sept. 1995), p. 11, and Brad Young’s Jesus and His Jewish Parables (Tulsa, OK: Gospel Research Foundation, 1989), pp.
86-88. **Compare Matthew 6:11 to its Lukan parallel: Give us each day our daily bread. Apparently, even Luke struggled with the radical implications of Jesus’ instructions to pray Give us this day our daily bread. See David Flusser, Hillel and Jesus: Two Ways of Self-Awareness in Hillel and Jesus: Comparisons of Two Major Religious Leaders , eds. James Charlesworth and Loren Johns (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997), p. 72.
***This remark is based upon the portrait of Jesus that emerges from the Synoptic Gospels. A different portrait of Jesus’ attitude toward Torah emerges from John’s Gospel. (Compare Jn. 5:10; 8:17; 9:14.) Religion Essays.