Pentecost 10/Proper 12(C)/Ordinary 17
Daily Bread Tomorrow
When Rabbi Goldstein confessed on Thursday evening that his biggest obstacle in understanding God, and living out his faith, was his persistence in thinking he was in charge of his life, including his spiritual life, that he was in ‘control’ – I could relate! Although I’m not a type-A personality, like he surely must be, still I take a measure of my success by being pride-fully in control of my busy-ness!
But in the mysticism and spirituality of the Kabbalah, the first thing to learn, Rabbi Goldstein said, was the term Mekubal, Hebrew for, “one who receives,” or, is prepared to accept. This, is ‘something other’ than taking charge, and being in control! The mekubal, therefore, does not petition God in order to get the right stuff: a certain prosperous career, a nice house, or a dependable bank account, as if God is a slot machine, and provides whatever we ask.
And so, right away, this made me retrace my steps back to the first little parable Jesus tells us today, in explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, and re-evaluate. And suddenly, I understand the mis-translation of the word, persistence, that scholars admit to today.
In the parable, two friends, who are neighbors, have a midnight encounter. The first has just received some guests unexpectedly and rushes to his next-door friend’s house to ask to borrow three loaves of bread – there are no stores open! But the friend, of course, is already in bed, the children too, presumably sound asleep, and to get up and find some bread to share, would surely wake them, as the kitchen and bedroom are really one room together.
And Jesus sums up: I tell you, even though the friend will not get up and give him anything… at least because of his “shamelessness,” mistranslated here as, “persistence,” the friend will get up and give him whatever he needs.
In the tradition of western Christianity, translating this word incorrectly stems from the fact that, until recently, we didn’t pay attention or understand 1st Century Palestine’s culture of “honor-shame” values. And so it was completely missed that the friend next-door will get up, not because the first friend is persistent, that he tries harder and won’t give up – an important western value. But because the sleeping friend knows, if he doesn’t answer the door and “be a friend,” when he gets up the next morning, his name will be mud in the town square. His reputation will be publically tarnished, and he will bring ‘shame’ on himself. But by rising up – even though it’s not nice of his neighbor to make him do it – he brings honor to himself, and, his friend from next-door. This is the radical nature of the giving and receiving of our prayer life, Jesus says.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray: Give us each day our daily bread. Right after the importance of asking for God’s kingdom and realm to come among us, the very next petition is about, bread. The early Christian theologian Origen believed “daily” bread, was a word that was likely made-up by Luke, and never used before. And daily bread can be translated: 1) necessary for our existence; 2) that which is needed for each day, 3) that which is needed for the following day, and, 4) that which is needed for the indefinite future! And so, based on that, you could translate it this way, in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us today the bread we need today, not hoarding tomorrow's bread, too.” (Paul Neuchterlein)
So, is prayer about asking? Or, is prayer about receiving? Certainly prayer is about our spirituality!? Or, is it about bread, and debts, and the trials of everyday life? Are we in ‘control’ of this spiritual discipline, and these everyday life concerns? Or are we, like Mekubal, receivers, who prepare ourselves to accept? Isn’t prayer itself the central means by which we listen to God's desire and learn to imitate God!?
Right now our elected leaders, who go to Washington on our behalf, to create legislation that will care for our ‘daily’ and ‘future’ needs, are instead messing with our daily bread, in the Farm bill. The Farm bill has been the home to a rather nifty government compromise for some 50 years. Farmers get subsides to grow basic crops that all Americans depend on, and rural folk and urbanites who don’t have enough bread on their table, get temporary SNAP benefits, known as food stamps, to help supplement family budgets. But as our economy in recent years lurches more and more towards rewarding the rich and demonizing the poor, despite the extra punishment of the Great Recession we’re in – now, even the daily bread so many pray for in the Farm bill, is on the chopping block. The House has turned down the traditional win-win, ‘honor’ to all, version of this bill, in favor of defunding SNAP altogether. Yet, they would continue to fund the farm subsidies, which overwhelmingly in these times, go for “farmers” who are really large and wealthy corporations!
And what does it mean when, many of these legislators who crafted this bill, will be praying Jesus’ Prayer with us this morning, Give us today our daily bread?!
I hate to admit it, but, I am old enough to have known, and listened to people, who lived through the Great Depression of the 1930’s. Don Lappala, who graduated from college in those days, never failed to tell me how wonderful the CCC’s were, the Civilian Conservation Corps, where he got his first job as a surveyor. A very quiet, intense and smart guy – what we call today, a nerd or a geek – knew how he was indebted to this Depression-era jobs program. In his retirement, Don told me the story over and over again. And, not because he was going senile, but because he, and most everyone back then, were so proud of what their country did. Most every family was poor in the depression. They were all in the same boat together. They prayed together for their daily bread, and many brought ‘honor’ to themselves and those they shared their daily bread with! Where Mr. Lappala lived, the sturdy wooden shelters and picnic benches made of white pines that CCC workers constructed, still stand today. I sat in those pavilions and on those picnic tables with Don, when our church gathered for potluck meals, and we broke, and shared daily bread together, praying and receiving ‘communion.’
Who are we, if we can pray for God’s kingdom and realm to come on earth, to ask for daily bread each day for all, and yet deny our next-door neighbor the smallest concession of bread, to live just one more day?! Have we not been called and empowered to be the disciples of Jesus, the embodiment of love, and the instruments of justice? Who will rouse us from our midnight slumber? What will inspire us to rise from our beds of inaction, that we can bring ‘honor’ to a friend, and, ‘our neighbor as ourselves?’
In answer to the question - "Is prayer the central means by which we listen to God's desire and learn to imitate God? - I would suggest it's a bit of a chicken and egg problem? Are we receivers or doers, as disciples? Which comes first? I don’t actually care to answer that for now. But I think we can say this. It is Jesus’ example – the anointed one who becomes a servant of all, the master and teacher who gets down on his hands and knees to wash his followers feet, the King of the Jews who carries his own cross – this is the model that teaches us, to pray… And, this is the model that teaches us to follow, in service.
Jesus, was the one who prayed a prayer of blessing, as he lifted the Passover loaf of bread, and then broke it, saying, this is my body, given for you – take and eat.
Let us come to our picnic table of Holy Communion and receive the bread of life. That being filled today, we may share this gift with the world, and bring honor to all.