Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread
November 24, 2002
When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray, then, in this way: "Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one. For the kingdom and the power and the glory are yours forever. Amen." For if you forgive others their sins, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:5-14)
Read also: Exodus 16:1-15
Reading from Swedenborg
Good and true things are people's real food. This may be clear to anyone, since those who are deprived of these have no life in them, and are dead people. The food on which such dead people feed is the pleasure that comes from evil actions and false ideas. This is the food of death. These delights and pleasures also come from bodily, worldly, and material things, which have no life at all in them. Such people do not know what spiritual and heavenly food is. Every time food or bread is mentioned in the Bible, they assume that it means food for the body. For example, in the words of the Lord's Prayer, "Give us our daily bread," they think only of nourishment for the body. . . . But the Lord himself clearly teaches what his Word means by "food" and "bread." Here is what he say about food in John: "Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man gives you (John 6:27)." (Arcana Coelestia #680)
When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. (Matthew 6:7, 8)
One of the major lessons the Lord Jesus taught us is how to pray. By giving us this prayer, he gave us a short, compact means to get in touch with God. It is not a long boring speech by which he taught us to approach God. From a very young age, most of us learned to say the Lord's Prayer by heart. As a matter of fact, it is so well known that many times it is said without our paying much attention to the words and their meaning.
At times I wonder why we don't pay more attention to the words in the Lord's Prayer. After all, praying is talking with God, and we ought to be involved, and mean what we say. Perhaps it is the repetitious use of the prayer at so many different occasions that makes this prayer somewhat of a hum rather that a clearly spoken and articulate piece of prose.
Nevertheless, no matter how the prayer is used--with a great awareness of its meaning or as a routine token of respect for God--it serves the purpose of communicating with the Lord God in a greater or lesser depth of our being.
This morning we will look in greater depth at the sentence, "Give us today our daily bread." It is specifically the word "bread" that we will pay attention to. As we all know, bread, as a staple food, is a physical necessity to advance growth and sustain the body. It is quite straightforward that this is the literal meaning of the bread in the Lord's prayer. That is, we ask that we will be provided with daily physical food.
In the Old Testament reading from Exodus Chapter 16 we heard the Israelites mutter about the shortage of food in the wilderness. Perhaps they had a legitimate reason to be complaining against Moses and Aaron about being hungry. After all, Moses had encouraged them to leave Egypt under his leadership. And as a responsibility of that leadership, he ought to manage the provision of food. Such reasoning makes good materialistic sense.
But the Israelites went a step further with their initial complaining. They started to say that they would have rather died in Egypt, when they were sitting at the fleshpots and had their fill of bread. And then they started to accuse Moses of wanting to kill them with hunger. Indeed, the lack of food can make people quite unreasonable, and very aggressive.
Well, as we read, the Lord provided them with bread and meat from heaven. That is, he provided manna and quail for the Israelites to eat.
Manna is a sweet, sticky, honey-like juice that oozes in May and June from a shrub found in the desert in the area where the Israelites were wandering. It melts in the heat of the sun, and after falling on the earth it forms grains and flakes. It has the flavor of honey. It is the natural juice of the shrub--but the Israelites had never experienced this phenomena.
When they found the grains of dried juice on the ground in the morning, they assumed this had come from heaven with the dew. No wonder they called it "man hu" in Hebrew, which means "What is it?" This is where the word "manna" comes from in English.
Over the years since it happened, in Israelite and later in Christian history, the experience with the manna has taken on supernatural qualities. However, there is nothing physically mystical about manna (the dried juice from a shrub), except perhaps the discovery by the Israelites that the grains and flakes on the ground were edible.
There is nothing mystical about the quail either. Even today, falling quail are still reported in the area. Every year the quail migrate between Europe and Africa. After their long flight across the Mediterranean, they drop to the ground exhausted, and can easily be caught.
Perhaps the mystery for materialistically inclined people might be in the spiritual aspects of the provision of bread and quail that served the Israelites as food in the wilderness. The symbolic sense of "bread" (or food) corresponds to the good and truth of love that sustains and promotes the spirit and its growth.
In that spiritual sense, when we pray "Give us this day our daily bread," we are asking for the Lord's love to sustain us. We are also asking for his love to be with us in all our relationships.
And just as the Israelites had to go out and collect the manna each day, we too must expect to have to work with the love that the Lord provides for us. In Matthew 20 there is a parable of a householder who hired people at different hours of the day. These workers were involved in working for their daily bread. The landlord went hack to the market place at the third hour, the sixth, the ninth, and at the eleventh hour. These hours symbolize the stages in becoming more and more spiritually aware, and applying that awareness to life.
Indeed, we grow spiritually step by step because of the Lord's love for us. Every step of the way is of greater and greater use and importance in developing our personality in relationship to God and our neighbor. And the last step we take will be the most important one of all.
Let me illustrate this principle and apply it to our everyday worldly life in the development of a working career.
Carpenters, to pick an example, start by learning how to use their tools the proper way, before they can make things. These are the basics from which they start. Perhaps we might say that this is the third hour in which we are hired.
During the four years of apprenticeship, the carpenters' work will become of more and more value, because they become more skilled in using more sophisticated tools. Being hired as an apprentice might be the sixth hour. Over the years, carpenters acquire more and more knowledge about the trade. Once they have achieved the status of journeyman, we might imagine that such people will be hired at the ninth hour. Nevertheless, they will still be able to improve their skills and knowledge, and produce better and better quality work.
Workers in any field will say that when they compare their early years to their present knowledge in the trade, their best work is produced today. And all during that time, they will have to use their basic knowledge about the use of tools. Of course these principles apply to all sorts of trades and professions, and to useful work in general.
And for all the stages to happen, we must have the will and the love to become excellent in whatever trade or profession we have chosen. If the will and love to become highly skilled and knowledgeable are present, we can, indeed, achieve a very high standard of excellence. But no matter what stage of development we may have achieved in life, we depend on food to be able to work.
It is the same for our personal spiritual growth in understanding our relationship to God and our neighbor. The more we work with God's love, the greater our understanding will be of his truth, and the more we will understand that he, in the spiritual sense, is the "bread of life."
Perhaps the next time we pray the Lord's Prayer, we will pray with a deeper dedication and understanding of the prayer that the Lord taught us. With greater understanding, we can take a more intelligent approach to the Lord God.
On the other hand, we may perhaps want to let the prayer take care of all our thoughts and wishes in the "hum" mode of praying. Such an approach to the Lord's prayer could be looked at as a short meditation period, knowing that in the stillness of our thought, there is love.
As Jesus told us, using many words and a display of so-called piety is a waste of time in the eyes of God. Should we have special requests, or should we be especially thankful for something, as Jesus said, God knows about the inmost thoughts in our hearts, and he will take care of them even before we have uttered a word.
What the Lord said about his taking care before the need is identified we might compare to the manna. To be sure, the manna had been there all the time; but until the Israelites became aware of its qualities as a source of food, they went hungry.
"Our daily bread" is also there for the taking, when we understand that genuine outgoing and giving love is the source of our spiritual wellness and growth.
May we always be prepared to accept love as the answer to our prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread."
O Lord, as we wander in the desert of spiritual hunger and thirst, in the desert of longing for the communion of kindred souls and for the sweet sense of your presence, we pray that you will sustain us each day with just enough understanding and love to keep us going . . . and a little extra to share with those around us. Give us a taste, not for the heavy bread of human desire and craving, but for the light, spiritual bread that you provide--the bread of love for you and kindness toward one another. Set us to the work of gathering the goodness and love you provide each day, and sharing it with others. Our Father in heaven, give us this day our daily bread. Amen.
Rev. Henry Korsten