Many years ago, when we were trying to sell our house, a realtor gave us a long list of small things we could do to improve the house’s appeal to potential buyers. One tip was to bake bread before a showing. “It makes a house smell like a home,” she said.
Bread, home, and love are certainly intertwined in my memories: Cornbread from an iron skillet at Grandma Linkfield’s. Cathead biscuits fresh from the oven at AnnaMerle’s. White slices from the Colonial Bakery bag rising from the toaster on a regular school day. Pancakes hot off the griddle on Christmas.
Flour, water, salt, yeast. These are the plain ingredients of life’s most basic food, made everyday and everywhere. It’s ordinary, common, and essential. Bread is a simple gift, but also a complex and evocative symbol.
Jesus taught us to pray for bread: “Give us this day our daily bread.” It’s a prayer about our hunger and God’s provision, about our limits and God’s abundance, and about our neediness and God’s grace.
In this prayer, “bread” is shorthand for the material things we need in order to survive: “Give us food on our tables, clothes on our backs, shelter against the elements, and money we need to secure these things.”
We should note that this prayer is not about "me," but about "us"; we pray not just for our own needs but the needs of the world. So, on one level, “give us our daily bread” is about our bodies, and on the other, it is about economics. It’s about individual nutrition and the global food supply, about family farms and multinational agribusiness, about the price of a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk at the grocery store. It concerns the price of soybean and corn commodities at the Chicago Board of Trade, about the kid who carries your groceries to the car, and about the migrant farmworker who harvested the vegetables your purchased.
“Give us this day our daily bread” is a prayer about the cereal our kids gulp down at breakfast and about millions of starving children, about business lunches and food stamps, and about upscale designer kitchens and soup kitchens for the down and out. It chastens workaholism and laments unemployment, causes us to question our greed and to speak on behalf of the poor, and reminds us that we depend on God and that God calls us to serve our neighbors.
Jesus gave us this prayer for bread, and he also said, quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Jesus did not say, “One does not live by bread at all.” The issue was not bread, but bread alone. To live by bread alone, however, is to live as slaves of our own desires. To live by “bread alone” is to try, over and over again, to substitute something made for our Maker—to try to fill the empty place in our hearts with something created rather than the Creator.
The desire beneath all our desires is for a connection with God, a friendship in which we “hear every word which comes from the mouth of God.” We yearn, not just for bread, but for the Bread of Life, the sustenance for our essential selves which Jesus gives, and which Jesus is.