In his best-selling memoir, Kitchen Confidential, renowned chef Anthony Bourdain writes this about his work in the alimentary world:
“I’ve long believed that good food, good eating, is all about risk. Whether we’re talking about unpasteurized Stilton, or raw oysters. . . food, for me, has always been an adventure.”
I love this, and not just because I enjoy food. I love it because it sheds light on what Jesus meant two thousand years earlier when he told his twelve disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.”
On the surface, this prayer appears to be simply a request, or, as theologians have traditionally called it, a “petition.” To some, it may even seem like a rote, or even boring prayer. But, if you choose to pray that prayer, you will soon discover that you are not simply making a rote request, but entering into an adventure.
So, the question is, why is praying this prayer an adventure?
The best place to find the answer to that question is Psalm 104. This beautiful piece of ancient poetry shows us two reasons why asking God for our daily bread is an adventure.
The first reason is because it leads us to gratefully acknowledge God’s gifts.
In Psalm 104, verses 14 and 15, the writer says to God:
You cause grass to grow for the livestock
and plants for people to use.
You allow them to produce food from the earth-
wine to make them glad,
olive oil to soothe their skin,
and bread to give them strength.
The tone in these verses is that of a person who is grateful for the tangible material gifts God gives to his creatures. But notice how ordinary these gifts are: plants, earth, wine, oil, bread. This is why we can say acknowledging God’s gifts is an adventure, because it requires us to look closely at the ordinary aspects of life, and assures us that when we do, God reveals himself. Robert Capon writes, “Only miracle is plain; it is the ordinary that groans with the weight of glory.”
A 16th Century German pastor named Martin Luther made the point that when we ask God to give us our daily bread, God doesn’t answer that prayer by magically making bread appear on the table. Rather, he works through the farmers who plant and harvest the grain, and the people who transport the flour. He works through bakers, and the local merchants. Luther concludes his point by saying, “These are the masks of God, behind which he wants to remain concealed and do all things.”
Every time we celebrate Communion, I read aloud to the congregation these words: “Our Lord Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed, took bread and gave thanks.” The word for “gave thanks” is eucharisteo in Greek. It’s root word is charis, which means “grace.” So, even Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed by a friend, the night before he would face a brutal death he didn’t deserve, still gave thanks for the ordinary gift of bread, and served it even to the very person who would betray him. That’s grace. The presence of God’s unconditional love mediated through something seemingly ordinary.
What are the ordinary gifts in your life that you are thankful for today? Are you disappointed that you seldom experience extraordinary and exciting moments in your life? Could it be that you are overlooking the sacredness of the ordinary things around you at this very moment?
Bob Dylan wrote and sang these words:
In the fury of the moment,
I can see the Master’s hand;
In every leaf that trembles,
In every grain of sand.
That’s what it means to gratefully acknowledge God’s gifts.
So, the first reason asking for our daily bread is an adventure is because it leads us to gratefully acknowledge God’s gifts. But the second reason is because it leads us to generously share God’s gifts.
Later in Psalm 104, in verses 27 and 28, we read:
All creatures depend on you to give them food as they need it.
When you supply it, they gather it.
You open their hand to feed them,
and they are richly satisfied.
Notice the plural forms of the pronouns used: they gather it, you open their hand to feed them. Receiving daily bread from God is a communal activity, meant to be enjoyed and shared together. Remember, the prayer is “Give US this day OUR daily bread.”
This actually hearkens back to the book of Exodus, when the people of Israel needed food to survive in the wilderness and God rained down “manna” for everyone on a daily basis. Six days a week everyone was required to go out and “gather” up the manna. Chapter 16 of Exodus describes it this way:
“Some gathered a lot, some only a little. But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed.”
This isn’t a political statement. It’s simply saying that the people of Israel made sure everyone had what they needed to live, and the society was better off because of that.
I saw a living example of this when I was a teenager. In the beach town where I lived, there was a nightclub called “The Fire Escape.” It’s exterior blended in with the others bars at the ocean front, but something was different about the atmosphere inside. The policy, posted on the door, read: “No cover charge, No ID, Come On Up!” Literally, everyone was allowed to come in on any night of the week and hear live music and partake of various foods and beverages, sold at an extremely reduced cost. The only rule was: no alcohol, no tobacco, no coarse language. And so, on any given night, clean-cut church teenagers came to hear live music with a Christian message, and homeless people would come to get warm. Button-down Pastors came to work behind the counter serving popcorn and soda, while drunks came in to pass out and sleep of their intoxication. Young professional Christian singles came to look for other likeminded people to date, and prostitutes came in to get away from the johns who were demanding their money. It was truly a diverse and almost frighteningly beautiful place. One evening when my my band performed there, my youth pastor introduced us to the manager of the club, an animated blonde Christian woman who could have been my mother. She asked if we would like to start volunteering there on a regular basis. When we told her yes she asked to meet with us the next day in order to brief us on what to expect. I’ll never forget what she said to Marc, Randall, and me as we sat at the square wooden table in the middle of the black and white tile checkerboard dance floor that day:
“Don’t come here thinking you’re more privileged than the others who are here each night. Everyone, including the three of you, who walk into this place, have the same thing in common: the need to be fed physically and spiritually. This place exists to meet that need.”
I am convinced this is what Christianity calls people to do; bless others because we have been blessed. Indeed, someone once summed up the church’s mission as “beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.”
St. Basil the Great wrote this:
“The bread that is spoiling in your house belongs to the hungry. The shoes that are mildewing under your bed belong to those who have none. The clothes stored away in your trunk belong to those who are naked. The money that depreciates in your treasury belongs to the poor!”
Now, how we do this is going to look different for everyone. But that’s why it’s an adventure. The fun part is that we get to work together to creatively share the gifts of God with those in need. And the good news is we don’t have to have our lives all together in order to do it. We can go into the world as broken people, poured out in love for others, just as Jesus gave himself when he broke bread, poured out wine, and offered it others for their survival. Give us this day our daily bread. In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.