Lots of Harvest Services going on today. Following on yesterday's thoughts on the Lord's prayer and daily bread and food banks, here's Walter Brueggemann on bread as both life essential and telling metaphor of a human and humane life. The metaphor of banquet and bounteous table, he argues, is both spiritual motive and ethical imperative, because the sharing of food is a transformative social action in human relations.
"You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies"...an engagement of the metaphor of food is fundamental. There is no gesture as expressive of utter wellbeing as lavish food. Thus the feeding miracles of Jesus and the Eucharist are gestures of a new orientation, which comes as a surprising gift and ends all diets of tears." (Praying the Palms, page 29)
As Nikoli Berdyaev pointed out, "Bread for myself is a material question. Bread for my neighbour is a spiritual one". Now that struck a chord, not least in this harvest season with all the fields either yellow or already cropped, and many of them decorated with those large straw swiss rolls. "Give us this day our daily bread...." That secon person plural is itself a spiritual and ethical imperative - who is us, if you'll excuse the grammar? That urgent question needs an answer. In my concerned but trusting prayer to my heavenly Father who do I mean when I say "Give us...."?
As I've been pondering this question and studying the Lord's Prayer, and wondering about that loaf stuck right in the middle of this cry for the Kingdom, I nearly did my back in lifting Hans Dieter Betz's commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, down from the shelf and on to my desk - I exaggerate. But this massive commentary, 768 pages of double column exegesis, is the epitome of historical critical scholarship, and not the most likely place to find a determined rooting of the biblical text in the daily disciplines of following Jesus, you might think. You'd be wrong though.
Here is Betz at his best applying the text to the practicalities of following Jesus with the spiritual urgency and ethical demand of a preacher pastor:
"The bread becomes "ours" only through the collaboration of many people who in fact "give us" our portion. This fact is most vividly demonstrated by the ritual act of breaking the bread and handing the pieces around the table. If this giving depends so much on human givers, one is always uncertain whether they will in fact give it or deny it. If hunger occurs the reason is most often that those who are expected to "give" refuse to give. The giving, therefore, depends not only on the production of the bread but also on the willingness to share it. Given the experience of human stinginess, one has every reason not to take human generosity for granted. God is therefore also asked to see to it that human providers are disposed in their hearts and minds to share what has been produced."
Just as important is the qualifying adjective daily. "The basic human needs are indeed the same day after day. ...Basic human needs are not timeless, and they are not simply a matter of the future. What counts is what happens today. ...As everyone who has faced starvation knows, it is "today" that matters, and neither past nor future can compensate for it."
So Give us this day our daily bread becomes a petition for justice and our own involvement in seeking the Kingdom of God in which daily bread is made available for all people. As Karl Barth noted, "To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world." Makes me wonder why Harvest Services aren't politically charged, economically challenging and ethical change oriented.
Christian support for Food Banks is rooted in this prayer line, "GIve us this day our daily bread"as we seek to ensure folk have their daily bread , by embodying the breaking and sharing of bread.
Christian opposition to Food Banks is rooted in this same prayer line, "Give us this day our daily bread", as we seek to ensure folk have their daily bread by challenging and contradicting the mechanisms of a world where the hunger of millions is the accepted by-product of global consumer capitalism, or economic global imperialism. That of course is another, more complicated and contested story. Who said the Lord's Prayer would make life simpler?