During my morning prayer time today, I was struck by the words of the Our Father. When Jesus teaches his disciples to pray, he teaches them to pray for “thy” kingdom (referring to God) and “our daily bread.” The instruction to pray for God’s kingdom to come means that we don’t pray for our own personal kingdoms or the kingdoms of the world to come. We don’t pray for Obama’s kingdom or Bush’s kingdom, we don’t let our selfishness dictate the prayer. Even though the truth of our shadow sides is that we’d actually prefer our own view of what the kingdom should be to prevail instead of God’s, in this humble prayer we contradict our self-seeking ways.
But the prayer for “our daily bread” is another matter. Like the Israelites in the desert, we’re commanded to trust God for what we need each day and not to store up for tomorrow. We learn from the manna story the futility of worrying about tomorrow as well as the fundamental discipline of Sabbath–trusting God for 7 days of abundance for 6 days work. (I had a different reflection on these same words almost 2 years ago here)
Yet the prayer for daily bread could easily become selfish, looking out just for me and my family’s needs. In contrast to the preceding words of the prayer, the petition for daily bread becomes me-focused. Upon closer look, however, the pronoun “our” is the key word to comprehending what God is asking of us.
By praying forour daily bread, I must recognize it is not enough if I have food on my table each evening. The prayer reflects the needs and petitions of the whole world; when I pray for the daily bread, my voice is joining the millions of others who pray that prayer, especially those for whom the manna has not yet appeared on the ground. Each time I pray the Our Father, it is an invitation to solidarity with the truly starved brothers and sisters around the world. And as I pray this with them in mind, I cannot gather too much for myself but must instead turn to help the one who gathers little, so that together no one has gathered too much and none too little. Maybe that is part of the manna story in the desert, that as the people gathered each day, they realized that their flourishing as a people depended on their willingness to walk the road together and help everyone gather what they needed.
Like the prayer of St. Francis, it is not enough to simply say the Our Father. To truly pray this prayer—to remember to ask for “our daily bread,” to be forgiven “our debts,” to be delivered from evil—means to live it out. Here is the difference between saying prayers and praying them, that when we pray our lives are altered. When we pray, our feet move. When we pray, our eyes are opened.
Let us truly pray this prayer that our Lord taught us.