Part 8 in our series on the Our Father.
We have now pierced the clouds, as it were, and come down from heaven to earth. The transition began with the last line of the first part of the prayer, when we asked that earth might be as heaven. But we now land squarely on the ground: Give us this day our daily bread.
Although this whole line is traditionally counted as one petition, we will break it into two, and this week focus on the simple phrase, “give us this day.” (In English this is first; in Greek and Latin, it is a post-positive, which amounts to the same.)
We are no longer in the eternity of the heavens, but in “this day.” These words point in two directions. On the one hand, they emphasize that in our world, we cannot see ahead. There is only this day; we meet God here and now, or not at all. All that follows is framed by this narrow focus on the present. In that sense, this world is very different from the eternal, broad view of the heavens.
On the other hand, there is a kind of mirror of eternity in the present moment. Eternity is not a long succession, not a really long time, but an eternal today. Eternity is living in the now. In another way, then, to focus on the now is to take a very eternal, divine perspective. God is always now.
The key shift between the two parts of the prayer is from an emphasis on God (your name, your kingdom, your will) to an emphasis on us (our daily bread, our trespasses, as we forgive, us not into temptation, deliver us).
But again, this opening line sets the standard for what will come after. Grammatically, we are on the receiving end. We don’t first proclaim what we will do, but beg God to do “for us”: give us! Thomas Aquinas says Christian moral theology is not so much about what we do as what God does for us. The Christian perspective always sees God as a provident Father.
Indeed, this is the first step in applying what we have learned “above the clouds,” in the thy’s of the Our Father, to the world “below the clouds,” this day, where we live. To call God Father is to see ourselves in a position of receptivity. The Father provides bread for his children. Even deeper, the Father provides the very existence of his children, and their nature. We are, and we are what we are, because God makes us. This is the perspective of calling God Father. This is the first thing to know about on earth as it is in heaven.
To look ahead: our daily bread treats God as our provider, the one who sustains us every step of the way. And it narrows our view to the this day: not God’s provision once, and then we will handle very well ourselves, thank you, but God’s continuing sustenance every day.
Forgive us then quickly shifts the subject, from what we ask for (very minimal: nothing but bread) to our recognition that we have no right to ask – and that God the Father nevertheless always provides, always receives us back.
As we forgive is the only thing we ourselves do – but it is a not-doing. All we pledge to do is not hold grudges. (Though, we will see, this is no small thing.) To realize that it is the Father, who forgives us and daily provides for us, who ultimately matters. If I receive everything, on the one hand, I have no right to hold back, to be unforgiving. On the other hand, I have no need to be stingy, because he always provides, always gives, every day.
Lead us not into temptation is the strangest line of all: as if God might lead us into temptation! But it underlines our absolute reliance on God, a sense that we are always following, and if we are to be safe, it is only because he keeps us safe.
And deliver us from evil sees all victory over harm as being in God’s hand.
In short, all of the Christian life, everything we have to say about this day, “below the clouds,” is that God gives to us, this day.
How do you cultivate a sense of receiving everything from God?