SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Prayer of the Day: Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve. Pour upon us your abundant mercy. Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience, and give us those good things that come only through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.
“Give us each day our daily bread.” Luke 11:3.
The context is important here. Jesus is asked specifically by his disciples to teach them how to pray. In Luke’s account, there are just four things: That God’s reign come; for each day’s bread; for forgiveness; and to be spared from “the time of trial.” Tomes could be written on each of these four petitions, but I want to say just one thing about the second petition for “daily bread.” It is a modest request, or at least it seems so. Though my family was hardly rich, there was never a day I doubted that there would be food on the table at the next meal. I never lacked for the bare necessities of life and, in fact, I grew up with plenty of things that were hardly necessary to survival. Praying for daily bread, then, seems a bit insincere. I already have daily bread and more. So what is the point of asking for what I already have?
But there is another way of reading this text. Think back to John the Baptist’s admonition for those who have food to share with those who do not. Luke 3:10-11. Or recall Mary’s song of praise:
“He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.” Luke 1:51-53.
I don’t think the rich are being sent away to starve. But they are sent away “empty” of the blessings God would bestow upon them. That is because one can only receive “good things” from God when one’s hands are empty. How many of us really want to empty our hands? How many of us want to be content to live each day with only what we need? For those who are starving, for those desperately ill and without adequate medical care, for those who are homeless having these bare necessities, the promise of daily bread represents the opportunity to live and thrive. But for those of us who have become accustomed to more, to those of us who have grown up with a degree of privilege, for those of us who feel entitled to more than our daily bread, the coming reign of God appears threatening and fearful. Fixated on what we are trying so hard to hang onto, we are blind to the life of blessing God would give us.
So how do rich Christians pray this prayer Jesus taught us? We might begin by praying for the courage to trust God’s promise to provide for us just as God provides for the grass of the fields and the birds of the air. If the prospect of losing our savings, property and livelihood is frightening, it is because we have put our faith in the engines of the economy rather than in one another. We have exchanged the security found in God’s promises and the safety assured through a community governed by generosity for that nirvana of “financial security” promised by banks and insurance companies. Ironically, the wealthier we become, the more fearful and insecure we feel. We know that what the market gives, the market can as easily take away. But what if we put away our misplaced faith in an economy that does not care about us? What if we invested in friendships and community instead of individual financial plans?
We might pray for contentment. As Saint Paul reminds Timothy, “the love of money is the root of all evils…” and “if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content.” I Timothy 6:6-10. In a culture of consumerism where more is always better and worth is measured in dollars, disciples of Jesus are called to a radically different economy. Unlike our capitalist system fueled by greed and an insatiable hunger for acquisition, the economy of God’s reign exists to serve the needs of people and especially those deemed “least” among us. We need to ask ourselves with each dollar we spend, who made what I am purchasing? Under what conditions did they labor to produce it? What materials go into what I buy and at what cost to human health, ecological wellbeing and environmental safety were they extracted from the planet? Is this an item I need? Why do I think I need it?
We might expand our understanding of “us” and “our” in the petition to include those who lack daily bread. This would serve as a salutary reminder that God’s reign has not yet come and that God’s will is not yet being done on earth as in heaven. The answer to this prayer for daily bread does not end with the satisfaction of our own hunger. In a sense, we ought to rise up from the dinner table hungrier than we came, determined to seek first God’s reign that our deepest needs and those of others will finally be met.
We might rediscover the practice of fasting, whether that be from food, entertainment, social media or any other aspect of our lives. Fasting brings into sharper focus our dependence on God’s promises and upon one another. It reminds us that our daily bread comes through the labor and services of others upon whom we depend. It can make us more sensitive to the pain of those whose fasting is not voluntary but imposed by poverty and injustice.
Jesus teaches us that daily bread is a free gift from our Creator. God has given us a world capable of feeding our need. It cannot, however, sustain our greed. So we pray that God would teach us to accept with thanksgiving our daily bread, to be content with this precious gift, to know that we have been blessed to be a blessing to our neighbors and to live gently and peacefully on our planet, being faithful caretakers of all God has made.
Here is a poem by Juan Felipe Herrera that might well serve as a faithful prayer for daily bread.
[Let us Gather in a Flurishing way]
Let us gather in a flourishing way
with sunluz grains abriendo los cantos
que cargamos cada día
en el young pasto nuestro cuerpo
para regalar y dar feliz perlas pearls
of corn flowing árboles de vida en las cuatro esquinas
let us gather in a flourishing way
contentos llenos de fuerza to vida
giving nacimientos to fragrant ríos
dulces frescos verdes turquoise strong
carne de nuestros hijos rainbows
let us gather in a flourishing way
en la luz y en la carne of our heart to toil
tranquilos in fields of blossoms
juntos to stretch los brazos
tranquilos with the rain en la mañana
temprana estrella on our forehead
cielo de calor and wisdom to meet us
where we toil siempre
in the garden of our struggle and joy
let us offer our hearts a saludar our águila rising
a celebrar woven brazos branches ramas
piedras nopales plumas piercing bursting
figs and aguacates
ripe mariposa fields and mares claros
of our face
to breathe todos en el camino blessing
seeds to give to grow maiztlán
en las manos de nuestro amor
Source: Half of the World in Light, Juan Felipe Herrera (The University of Arizona Press, 2008). Juan Felipe Herrera (b. 1948) is an American poet, performer, writer, cartoonist, teacher, and activist. was the 21st United States Poet Laureate from 2015 to 2017. Herrera’s experiences as the child of migrant farmers have strongly shaped his work. He lived from crop to crop and from tractor to trailer to tents on the roads of the San Joaquín Valley and the Salinas Valley. He graduated from San Diego High School in 1967 and received the Educational Opportunity Program scholarship to attend the University of California, Los Angeles where he received his B.A. in Social Anthropology. Later, he received his master’s degree in social anthropology from Stanford University, and his Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from the University of Iowa. Herrera currently resides in Redlands, California with his partner Margarita Robles, a performance artist and poet. They have five children. You can read more about Juan Felipe Herrera and sample more of his poetry at the Poetry Foundation website.