15 May 2013
We ask God to give us each day what we need - what we are hungry for. But think back to the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew's version - 'Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.'
The friends of Jesus are those who are hungry for justice. And that suggests that when we pray for daily bread from God we are praying to see justice prevail in our world - and praying for this because we recognise that we cannot live without it any more than we can live without material food.
'Bread for myself,' wrote a great Russian thinker, 'is a physical question; bread for my neighbour is a spiritual question.'
My neighbour's lack of bread, my neighbour's struggle for the means of life, is spiritually speaking my question.
I am not being fed if my neighbour is struggling, nor is my neighbour fed when I am hungry.
‘The hunger or need of some is the problem of all.'
Praying for daily justice is one way of pushing back against the spirit of a world in which it normally looks as though people are content to keep my well-being and my neighbour's in ever more tightly sealed compartments.
'Give us this day our daily bread' is, then, a prayer that reminds us of the humanity we share. The hunger or need of some is the problem of all - which is exactly what St Paul says about living in the Body of Christ in his first letter to Corinth. 'If one part of the Body suffers, all suffer.'
So to say these words when we have just asked for the Kingdom to come and God's will to be done makes complete sense - the Kingdom is to be seen wherever God's justice becomes visible and active, wherever the supreme and divine authority of the poor man from Nazareth is acknowledged.
God's will is done on earth by Jesus as he creates the community of justice and love, of interdependence and mutual service.
Jesus himself says in John's gospel that his food is to do God's will. When his friends pray to be fed, they pray for the strength to do that reconciling and transforming will, and to become signs of the royal authority of Jesus the servant.
So this prayer is not just asking for something to be done for us - it is asking for something to be done in and through us, for us to become more fully alive in the spirit of Jesus.
In that sense it is the perfect bridge between the first and the second parts of the Lord's Prayer. The first sets out the great hopes for the universe, the new creation; the second asks for mercy and endurance for us as believers.
Here is the hinge between the two, as we recognise that what we most need for our continuing life as witnesses and servants of God's transfiguring purpose is a commitment to the security and flourishing of our neighbour's life.
As long as that is not the case, we are all hungry, all needy, all less than God wants us to be.
Dr Rowan Williams, Chair of Christian Aid and Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge.
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