The usual suspects were back in Carl’s living room for another installment of “Coffee. Conversation. Carl.” The monthly Bible study and conversation group showed up faithfully to gather in the wise, long-time Sunday school teacher’s home to talk about Scripture and their lives. Now tonight, Carl had made a point to skip the coffee and the cookies. After a few quizzical looks and questions, finally Carl began the study with a question. He brought out a loaf of bread and set it in the middle of the room. He quoted Jesus from the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread,” and asked “What does that mean to you tonight?”
The first to respond was Chet. A successful insurance agent, he had spent long hours building his network and climbing to the top of the corporate ladder. But he had found Carl’s Bible study just a month earlier, as he was becoming disillusioned with all he had accomplished. As soon as Carl asked the question, the answers came flooding out of him.
“Daily bread. It’s about our daily bread. I have spent so much time worrying about what’s going to happen in weeks and months and years down the road, when I should be asking what I need for the moment. It’s like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. When they asked for food, God gave them manna. Each morning. Every day. They couldn’t stockpile it. They couldn’t hoard it – it went bad when they tried. They just needed to go out there and pick it up and eat it that day. Daily bread. What do I need for the moment? What do I really need to ask God for? What do I really need?
“Listen to what Jesus did not say! He did not say ‘give us this day a quarter’s worth of income earnings.’ Or ‘give us this day our house for the next three decades.’ Or ‘give us this day a new wardrobe, or a corner office, or a spot on the front page of the trade catalog.’ None of that seemed to matter to Jesus. Just bread. Just today.
“How much am I worried about how I am going to achieve my value?! How much I need to do in order to impress my boss? What is my net worth? Jesus tells us that we are asking the wrong questions. Or at least I have been.
In contrast, I imagine the quiet prayer of a faithful follower of Jesus, heeding his instructions to pray: Kneeling at sundown, preparing for the night and the next day, praying for enough bread for him and his family that next morning and until the next sundown. Give us this day our daily bread. God, grant me the wisdom to pray this prayer! And the patience for it to be answered.”
And several heads nodded quietly.
Until Nikki stood up to share.
“I know that you all are getting tired of me talking about my trip to Haiti all the time, but I cannot help but ask what some of my friends there would think if they heard this sentence. I mean, my guess is that most of us in here tonight are not really too worried about where tomorrow’s bread is coming from. Even for us poor college students, there is usually a package of Ramen noodles somewhere around that will get us through the day!” But in Cap Haitian, how many people living in the streets cry out ‘give us today our daily bread,’ and actually mean bread today?
“When I hear these words, I cannot help but hear the word ‘our’ most loudly of all. After all, Jesus didn’t say ‘give me this day my daily bread.’ He seemed to mean that daily bread was a communal gift. For all of us. There is enough bread for all – it just depends on whether those who have enough share with those who do not. In Haiti, it was obvious – there were the haves and the have nots. Some had all the bread. Some had none. And as I step back and look at it on a global scale, is the world as a whole that different? How many of us have more than enough bread to share, more than enough extra money to give, and yet there are still some in our world – and our own community – who go without!
“It is our bread, after all!
• It belongs to the wheat farmer in West Kansas who wonders what happens when the aquifer runs out.
• It belongs to the baker in the commercial factory who can’t get insurance because of a pre-existing condition because of all the dust she has inhaled over the years.
• It belongs to the cross-country driver who drives the truck full of bread, never seeing his family because he has to stay on the road to make ends meet.
• It belongs to the grocery store clerk who sells the bread, even though she doesn’t have any at home.
• And it belongs to the parents who have to buy the cheap bread, even though they know it isn’t as good for their kids, because that’s all they can afford with their food stamps.
“And that is all in our own country – one of the richest on the planet. When Jesus told us to ask: ‘Give us today our daily bread.’ I have to think that he meant that there is enough for all of us to share! With those at LINK downtown. With Christian in Limbe. With all of us.”
A few folks shifted uncomfortably, in their seats. Several looked down, or away from such a striking word.
Finally, Lisa, a third-year seminary student, cleared her throat.
“I’m sure you all think I am a theology dork anyway, so I am going to tell you the first thing that came into my mind: ‘eschatological incarnation.’” As the room erupted, and she smiled, she explained.
There is this idea in Scripture that one day, there will be this huge banquet in which God will gather us all together for a huge party. This idea is referred to as the ‘eschaton’ or the last days, and it is the same idea that Jesus is talking about when he refers to ‘kingdom’ or ‘heaven’ in the first part of the prayer. Jesus actually talked about this idea all the time. He told parables about this great banquet, he referred to it when he sat down to eat with people, even referenced it at the Last Supper.
And so, these scholars suggest that when Jesus is talking about bread in the Lord’s Prayer, he is referring to this eschatological bread of the Great Banquet. We studied this passage last semester, and the thing that sticks out in my mind is this phrase in the Greek. You’ll be surprised to know that theologians argue about the meaning of this phrase. You see, it could be translated as ‘give us today our bread for tomorrow,’ kind of like Chet’s evening prayer for the faithful Jesus follower: give me what I need to make it through the day. But some scholars think that the best translation is actually, ‘give us today the Eschatological Bread of Tomorrow.’ This Great Banquet Bread. Kind of like, ‘don’t save the good stuff for later, God – bring it on right now!’
“Which is kind of the way that Jesus lived. He got in trouble all the time for eating at the wrong people’s houses, with the wrong dinner guests, at the wrong time. He wasn’t too bothered with decorum and etiquette at the table. Because he seemed to be preaching, and teaching, and living, that God was giving them the Kingdom then and there. That the eschaton – the Great Banquet – was in their midst and that they should live it up now! Tony Campolo says it best: the Kingdom of Heaven is a party! That’s why they called Jesus a drunkard and a glutton and some say it’s why they killed him. He spent too much money and too much time partying with the wrong people at the wrong time!
“Get it? Eschatological incarnation. The eschaton has become incarnate: real, up-close and personal, RIGHT NOW!”
And now Lisa was standing, gesticulating for all she was worth. When she noticed the smiles and sat down, red-faced. Carl gently asked to continue, and she did.
“So, when Carl brought out the bread tonight, I think about all of the ways that I’m more like the Pharisees than Jesus. I spend too much time clucking my teeth at those who aren’t doing it right or living right or – to be honest – are gluttons and winebibbers, as the Pharisees called Jesus. I am almost done with seminary, now, and don’t know for sure where I am going to end up. And it kind of terrifies me. And so, I realize how much of my fear gets translated into a kind of perfectionism. Make sure I do it right and that everyone around me does it right.
But that bread looked so good and, to be honest, the first thing I wanted to do is just run up and grab a hunk and pass it around to everyone. I felt like sharing this spontaneous moment of celebration, of joy, of…of eschatological incarnation.”
Carl smiled. “Why don’t you?” he asked.
“Really?” she hesitated.
Carl nodded. “Give us today our daily bread.”
“Okay. No, wait.” She stopped, and she ran out to her car to get a bottle of really nice wine that she had just bought for graduation, and she uncorked it and grabbed a glass and filled it up. And that night, the participants of “Coffee. Conversation. Carl.” enjoyed a communion of eschatological bread and holy wine. And as they prayed the Lord’s Prayer together as a benediction, it became to them a new vision for what God was doing in their lives and in their world.