Tomorrow's Bread Today
Scriptures: John 6:25-35; John 6:3-14
This morning we are studying the part of the Lord’s Prayer that says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” There are two ways to translate this part of the Lord’s Prayer, depending on how you translate the Greek word epiousion. This is going to be a fairly technical Bible study for the first five minutes, so hang in there with me. We will get to the spiritual meaning of this verse, in a few minutes, but first I need to explain some translation issues. There are two ways to translate the Greek word epiousion: One is to translate it by the word “daily” so that the verse reads the way we usually say it: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Give us each day what we need to eat.
God is certainly concerned about people having food to eat. At the beginning of the Bible, when human beings were created, God made sure they had all the food they needed in the Garden of Eden. In the Bible story I told earlier to the children, Jesus fed 5000 people who had come to hear him preach. He cared about preaching God’s word to them, but he also cared about whether they had enough to eat. Which is why we care about it, why we support food banks in our community, distribute protein packs to homeless people, and give to agricultural projects all over the world through the One Great Hour of Sharing. We pray for all people everywhere to have daily bread.
But there is another way to translate the word epiousion. It can also be translated “tomorrow,” so that the verse says, “Give us today the bread of tomorrow.”
What would that mean? Is Jesus suggesting that we ask for an advance? That we should pray for tomorrow’s portion of bread today so we have it in reserve, as a kind of ancient 401-K? Having a reserve is not a bad thing, but that is not what Jesus is talking about here. The bread of tomorrow can also be understood as a reference to the future bread we will eat, the future banquet we will share, in God’s kingdom.
Let me try to explain this by comparing the two versions of the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew and Luke. In Luke’s version of the Lord’s Prayer the verb “give” in Greek is a present imperative, which means something like “keep on giving.” A present imperative has a continuous action: “keep on giving.”* Also the verb “day” is a Greek expression that means “each day.” So this part of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke’s version says literally, “Keep on giving us each day our daily bread.” In Luke’s version Jesus is clearly teaching us to pray for daily food, not just for ourselves but for everyone. It is a very earthly practical prayer.
*Note: Cullen I. K. Story, A Grammar of New Testament Greek, p. 93, “If the tense is aorist, the action is decisive, if present the action is durative.”
But Matthew’s Greek reads differently. In Matthew’s version the verb give is an aorist imperative, which in Greek is a one-time decisive action, which we might translate “Give us once and for all.” Also, Matthew’s version uses a different word for “day.” It’s not a phrase that means “each day,” but a word that means “this day, today, right now.” So Matthew’s version, translated literally says, “Give us once and for all today here and now the bread of tomorrow.”
You see the difference. In Luke, Jesus reminds us to pray each day for our daily bread. Which is important. God cares that all of us have the food we need each day. But in Matthew, Jesus reminds us to pray for something bigger: the bread of tomorrow, the bread we will share at the banquet in God’s coming kingdom. Pray for that bread to come into our lives and world today.
I think the Bible gives us two versions of the Lord’s Prayer because Jesus wants us to practice praying both. Yes, we should pray for the daily bread all of us need every day. This, of course, includes praying that God will give all people access to obtaining their daily bread, that all people may have access to land on which to grow food and to work that will be compensated well enough to provide for their food, clothes, and housing. This part of the Lord’s Prayer includes praying for all the structures in society that make it possible for everyone to have their daily bread, including the power to provide it for themselves through access to land or education or resources or sufficiently compensated work.
But now this morning we come to the Lord’s Table, and here we encounter a different kind of bread. Jesus talks about this other kind of bread in the scripture we just heard from John 6. After feeding 5000 hungry people he says, “Do not work for the food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Yes, we all need daily bread, but we also need something more. We need the bread here at the Lord’s Table. We need to receive this day, here and now, the bread of tomorrow, the bread of the forgiveness and healing and life God wants for us all in God’s kingdom.
Last month the Rolling Stones played a concert in Seattle. I was not there, but people told me it was pure nostalgia. Toward the end they played one of their signature songs called “Satisfaction.” Actually, it should have been called “Dissatisfaction.” The words in part go like this:
When I’m driving in my car and that man comes on the radio;
And he’s telling me more and more about some useless information
Supposed to fire my imagination.
I can’t get no…no, no, no,
I can’t get no…hey, hey, hey,
I can’t get no…satisfaction.
Later in the song Mick Jagger sings,
When I’m watching my TV and that man comes on to tell me
How white my shirts can be …
I can’t get no … I can’t get no … I can’t get no
The irony, of course, is how this song is being sung by a rock star who has more money than you or I will ever imagine. The song itself seems to recognize this irony. In the last verse Mick Jagger sings about riding around the world, signing autographs and picking up women, but the song concludes,
I can’t get no, I can’t get no, I can’t get no … satisfaction.
Jesus could have told him that. Everyone who eats ordinary bread will be hungry again. Everyone who hopes to find fulfillment and meaning for their lives in this or that car, this or that house, this or that achievement, this or that relationship is destined to be disappointed.
Jesus knows we all need bread. That’s why he was concerned about feeding people, why we are concerned about feeding people. But he also knows that people do not live by bread alone. That’s why we offer this bread here at this table. This is not enough bread to feed you for today. This is the bread of tomorrow, the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to your soul.