Scripture: Matthew 6:9-13
Last Friday, just as all the social distancing restrictions were about to go into effect, I stopped by my neighborhood Giant just to pick up a few things we needed extra of. I had been hearing all week that everyone was stocking up bread and canned food and toilet paper, and I naively thought that since the crowds had apparently already descended upon the stores, I would be late enough to have missed them.
Instead what I found when I pulled into the parking lot was something reminiscent of Tyson’s Corner at Christmas. People were fighting over parking spaces and cutting each other off with their carts. It’s not that the food was gone. I could get skim or whole milk but not 2%, and only the kind of oatmeal you have to actually cook on the stove, and obviously, there was no toilet paper.
Maybe you’ve had an experience like this recently.
The thing is it’s hard not to buy into, even if you don’t want to, isn’t it? I never knew we needed an eight-week supply of toilet paper, but then I hear that everyone else thinks they need that and there isn’t going to be any more, and suddenly the first thing on my mind is toilet paper and the fact that there isn’t any, and next time I happen to come across some, I am throwing as much into my cart as will fit. That’s what happens in a cultural mindset of scarcity.
I know that this speaks to my own privilege, but I have rarely had the experience of wondering where my next meal is coming from. And I’ve thought about that fact as I’ve prayed the Lord’s Prayer and especially this line, “Give us this day our daily bread” – or as Eugene Peterson puts it slightly more robustly, “Keep us alive with three square meals.” I’m aware that I have prayed this prayer alongside people who have no choice but to pray it, because they don’t know how far the SNAP benefits will stretch this month or if they’ll make enough panhandling on the corner to buy lunch today or how the farm or the garden is going to do this year. And that has always been poignant to me, because I’ve always had my daily bread, and I’ve never really had reason to fear the alternative.
I don’t really have reason to fear it now. But this is one of those ways praying the Lord’s Prayer takes on new meaning in a pandemic, or any time of crisis. I look at those bare shelves in the grocery store and even though so far I’ve only had to get the skim milk, there’s this gnawing feeling inside of me asking how bad things are going to get, if there’s really going to be enough. Give us this day our daily bread: I may really have to mean it now.
You may remember that back in Exodus (16), when the Israelites were in the wilderness, they wondered where their next meal was coming from, and God rained bread down on them from the sky. The catch was that they were only allowed to collect as much as they and their family needed for the day. Some people – the same people who are now hoarding the toilet paper – didn’t follow this instruction. They collected as much of this manna as they could get their hands on. But the excess rotted overnight and had maggots in it the next morning.
And guess what? The manna fell from heaven again the next day. Because you don’t need to hoard when God is the one who provides.
It may be humbling, for those of us who have not often experienced real physical need, to realize that we need to pray this prayer as much as anyone who has. It’s a reminder that we are not as self-sufficient as we like to think. It’s a reminder, perhaps, of how little we actually need – not a feast. Bread. Three square meals. It’s a reminder that God is God in times of abundance and scarcity, both.
A couple weeks ago when we were just beginning this series on the Lord’s Prayer, I asked you to notice the first-person plural pronouns. Our Father, not mine. That’s important to notice here too: Give us this day our daily bread. Not give me mine. Give us ours. Provide for us, God, grant us the essentials for this life you have given us. I think we can tell how much we mean this prayer by the way we share what we have with each other.
I’m still wrestling with what it means to pray to God daily for the essentials of life in a time when everyone seems to fear scarcity, and maybe with reason: of food, of toilet paper, of hospital beds, of masks. I’m aware that there are people, even people of faith, who don’t get the basics of what they need. You can’t talk glibly about God providing and not acknowledge that. There are people who die of hunger. There are people who have to ration their insulin. There are people who don’t have hospital beds. This prayer isn’t magic, and it doesn’t magically fix broken systems. What it does is invite us to live into God’s Kingdom on earth: where we share and give thanks and believe that when we’re in this together, there is enough.
Maybe you saw the story earlier this week about the two brothers who traveled 1300 miles across Tennessee and Kentucky buying up over 17000 bottles of hand sanitizer to sell at up to $70 on Amazon. When Amazon cracked down on price gouging, they had no place to sell their stock, and were forced to donate it.
People put them on the “most hated Americans” list and said there was a special place in hell for people who hoard items like this in a national emergency. Personally, I think it reads like a parable: The Kingdom of God is like two brothers who hoarded hand sanitizer and ended up having to give it all away.
I don’t know what will happen in the coming weeks and months. What I sense is that this particular time has the potential to make us pray in a new way – as people wholly dependent on God’s grace each day, and learning to trust in God’s provision together.