Growing up I went to a junior high school where the "Lord's Prayer" was broadcasted over the PA system every morning. As a Jew, I found this broadcast a little strange and oppressive. I also found the content bizarre. What did "your kingdom come" mean? I had no idea. "Hallowing" sounded vaguely scary, reminiscent of Halloween. "Forgive us our trespasses"...what, were Christians always going on to other people's property? And who was trespassing against me? I didn't notice anybody poking around my classroom desk. I did get the general idea that it was good to forgive people, which according to Jesus himself is the main idea of the prayer (Matt. 6:14-15). "Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil" just sounded foreign and heavy-handed to me. What were they talking about, the devil? Jews didn't believe in the devil, or so I wrongly thought from my liberal-modernist Jewish education.
Then there was the part about "daily bread." In the world I grew up in, bread was considered a cheap and boring food, not like for instance, bagels. "Give us today our daily bagel" would have sounded a lot better. Though even then I would've been left wondering why a person needed a daily bagel. At some considerable surprise to myself, I was baptized as an adult and I began saying Jesus' Prayer. I immediately modernized the translation to something like this:
Our Father in Heaven, may Your name be sanctified.
Your Kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil.
I would sometimes pray it in Hebrew. Avinu sh'b' shamayim yitkadesh shimcha. After studying the Gospels, the prayer made sense. Its similarity to the ancient form of the Jewish Amidah prayer and Jesus' characteristically concise and brilliant form of it were obvious. Yet the part about daily bread continued to be unclear to me. I thought Jesus was just humbly saying, "Give us enough food to get through the day." Yet somehow, this didn't seem complete. I read Catholic commentaries that said it meant "give today our bread from heaven." In other words, give us today the nourishment of communion with God's wisdom and spirit. This might very well be an implication Jesus intended, but it didn't seem like the literal reading to me.
Then the other day I was reading "The Path of the Just," a book on the spiritual life by the great 18th century Italian Jewish mystic Moses Chaim Luzzato. He writes in chapter one:
Now the Holy One, blessed be He, has set the human being in a place where many things can distance us from Him, blessed be He, specifically the materialistic desires which if someone is drawn after them, he will become steadily more distant from the true goal (which is clinging to God). It emerges then that the human has truly been placed in the middle of an intense battle, for all the circumstances of the world whether pleasant or difficult are tests for a person. There is poverty on the one hand and wealth on the other, and both are challenges so that Solomon the King said (Proverbs 30:9): "Give me neither poverty nor wealth, but portion me my daily bread, so that I do not become sated and deny you, saying, "Who is God?""
This clarified Jesus' words at last. I had no idea he was quoting Proverbs. So the point is: give me enough, neither poverty nor so much that I "become fat and kick" against God in my complacency, false security, and materialism (Deut. 32:15). Rebellion is sometimes not as dangerous as simple apathy and sloth.
Wise words: how often do we seek to be more comfortable? Yet comfort might not be what we need. Peace, yes (James 3:18; Romans 14:19, 15:33; Ephesians 2:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:16; Galatians 5:22; Philippians 4:7, Colossians 3:15, etc.) but peace and the pursuit of comfort are often contrary to each other. This is not only true of the comfort that comes from the food for the belly - it is also true of food for the eyes, ears, nose, and body. Surely it is right to enjoy the endlessly beautiful creation, but if we find that we are always seeking a state of comfort through enjoying pleasure in the right amount, of the right kind, and at the right time, then we can be sure that we are not nourishing ourselves enough on the bread that comes from above.
Matthew Levi was baptized two years ago after Jesus began appearing to him during meditation sessions. Matthew is a practicing Jew with experience in many different philosophies and spiritual traditions and a restless, questing mind. Though he retains his love and respect for the worlds wisdom traditions and especially his Jewish heritage, Matthew met an unprecedented beauty and power in Jesus and his church which led him to faith and discipleship,
If you'd like to read more of his work, check out Matthew's blog here.