13 February 2013
The ‘us’ in the phrase 'give us this day our daily bread' reminds us that we are one body, one global community and that what one part of the body does affects the whole.
St Ambrose was quick to remind his contemporaries that when giving to the poor, they were not giving charity, they were merely giving back to people what was theirs by rights, because the world and all that is in it is for the whole of creation, not just a small percentage of humans.
Our Christian faith continually invites us to share, since all that we have has first been given to us by God.
When Mother Teresa heard about a family with eight children who were hungry, she went round to take them some rice. The mother of the family immediately divided the contents of the dish in two and then disappeared.
When she came back Mother Teresa asked where she had been. 'I went to our neighbours,' she replied. 'They are hungry too.'
Even in their hunger and poverty, this family were able to live out the invitation to share that we see in Isaiah: 'I want you to share your bread with the hungry, open your homes to the homeless poor, remove the yoke of injustice and let the oppressed go free.' (Isaiah 58)
I imagine the phrase 'Give us this day our daily bread' being used in Jesus’ time by those who perhaps did not have a regular job, like the workers in the vineyard in Matthew’s Gospel.
At the end of the day, no matter how long they had worked, they still needed one denarius so that they could feed themselves and their families.
There are many people among us today who still live with the day-to-day reality of not knowing where their next meal will come from.
But there is also another reality which has taken over the world in recent history, and that is the reality of overconsumption, in all its forms.
The theologian Sam Wells puts it this way: 'The truth is that the world is not short of food, and the solution to starvation is not making more food (overcoming scarcity); the solution is sharing the food the world already has and reconciling the divisions that lead to ruinous conflict.'
The phrase 'Give us this day our daily bread' therefore perhaps needs a different form to make sense in contemporary society. Perhaps a more appropriate prayer for some of us would be:
Give us today only what we need,
not what we want, or what we think we want.
Give those of us who have little,
enough bread for today, and
give those of us who have access to so much,
a spirit of discernment to help us choose
what is life-giving for ourselves and others.
Help us all to cultivate the virtue of temperance,
to know when we have had enough,
and to share our resources with others.
Susy Brouard, Theological Adviser, CAFOD.
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