Give us today our [daily] bread

One of the most famous lines ever uttered by Jesus, and my Greek lexicon says, “of doubtful meaning,” how can this be?  Well, it seems that in both versions of the Lord’s Prayer: Luke’s that we will hear on Sunday and Matthew’s that we will pray on Sunday; the word used to describe the type of bread is, wait for it, a hapax legomenon!

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The Greek word “epiousios” is found in both versions, which they probably borrowed from Q or some other shared source, and, at least according to none other than Origen, was not a word used in ordinary speech.  He posits that perhaps one of the evangelists coined the term.  So, if the word for “daily” wasn’t used to mean “daily,” does it make a difference?  And if so, what does it mean?

Thanks to Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, I’ve come to know that in the Peshitta Syriac New Testament, the word is translated to mean “necessity.” “Give us the bread of necessity for today.”  In the Curetonian  Gospels, which are also Syriac in origin and perhaps older than the Peshitta, it is translated as “continual.”  The question remains, “does it matter?”  Well, probably not.  In the end, the earliest translations seem to be in line with the more modern “daily.”  Jesus invites us to follow in the footsteps of Israel in the wilderness and to trust God enough only to ask for provision for this day.  Tomorrow’s worries will take care of themselves.  Whether the bread comes to us continually or only according to our necessity, the reality is the gifts of God will come to suit us for today, and today alone.

That’s our prayer, then.  Give me the bread I need for today, and by extension, make be to be content with what I have and not anxious about what is to come.

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Father

By the standards of this world, this blog has a pretty meager following.  On any given day, not counting those who read posts in their email box or through an RSS feed, only about 80 or 90 sets of eyes lay upon my words.  As I’ve said, however, this blog is such a part of my own spiritual practice that I would write it even if nobody read it.  Still, it is nice to receive feedback from time to time.  Overnight, one of my parishioners read my blog and offered some thoughts on the opening line of the Lord’s Prayer from her reading of CS Lewis.

“Its very first words are Our Father. Do you now see what those words mean? They mean quite frankly, that you are putting yourself in the place of a son of God. To put it bluntly, you are dressing up as Christ. If you like, you are pretending. Because, of course, the moment you realise what the words mean, you realise that you are not a son of God. You are not being like The Son of God, whose will and interests are at one with those of the Father: you are a bundle of self-centred fears, hopes, greeds, jealousies, and self-conceit, all doomed to death. So that, in a way, this dressing up as Christ is a piece of outrageous cheek. But the odd thing is that He has ordered us to do it.” (From Mere Christianity Compiled in Words to Live By)

I find these words from Lewis to be quite interesting in light of the Apostle Paul who, in his letter to the Romans, suggests an alternative way of looking at our calling God “Father.”  In a lesson that will be very familiar to Episcopalians who attend funerals, Paul suggests that we do not approach God as “Father” or “Abba” of our own volition, but through the power of the Spirit.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.”

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When Jesus suggests to his disciples that they begin their prayers by addressing God in the same manner he does, it isn’t, I don’t think, about taking on the veil of Christ and thereby being convicted of our own inadequacies.  Rather, to approach God as Father is to come before him with the boldness of faith in the power of the Spirit.  It is to stake our claim as adopted children and co-heirs with Christ.  To begin the prayer of the kingdom by simply calling God “Father” is to embrace our position in the kingdom which should convict us not of our own sinfulness but of our high calling as brother and sister disciples of Jesus and sons and daughters, first-order heirs of God, who are committed to the spread of the kingdom of God throughout the world.

The Lord’s Prayer – Unplugged

This Sunday, we will once again hear a very familiar passage from Luke’s Gospel.  The Lord’s Prayer is, without a doubt, the most familiar prayer in the western world, which is why despite the familiarity of this passage, many will find the Lukan account to be very disconcerting.  Luke’s version of Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray is very different from the Matthean version that we Episcopalians are used to praying on a daily basis.  It is, to use a modern idiom, The Lord’s Prayer Unplugged.

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Still one of the best albums ever recorded.

In fact, the Lukan version is so stripped down from its more familiar Matthean counterpart, that two full pages in Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament are devoted to scribal accretions on the very simple original.  Some of them are familiar.  Some add in “who art in heaven.”  Others needed it to include “on earth, as it is in heaven.”  The most interesting addition is an invocation of the Holy Spirit that seems to come from left field: “Your Holy Spirit come upon us and cleanse us.”  Still, the most likely original version is that which we will hear read on Sunday.

“Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us.
And do not bring us to the time of trial.”

While it might be interesting in a sermon to play on the differences between the more familiar version from Matthew and Luke’s acoustic rendition, I wonder if it wouldn’t be more helpful to let it sit on its own.  Let the people feel uncomfortable, as if you’d had them read Psalm 23 from something other than the King James Version.  Instead of focusing on what isn’t in Luke’s version, pay careful attention to what is.  As the week goes one, we’ll look more deeply at the particular petitions, but given the context, with Jesus having set his face toward Jerusalem and the urgency of his message that the Kingdom of God being at hand, what are we to learn from this abbreviated teaching on prayer?