As the last parishioner was shaking my hand at the door, a young woman walked up to the church. She hesitantly asked if I could help her with some food. I wish I could tell you my first reaction was to celebrate how God had answered my prayer. In truth, I had already forgotten my words. I was thinking about the dinner my wife was preparing and looking forward to an afternoon of relaxation.
The young woman's eyes filled with tears as she told me her children were going hungry. Guilt, rather than compassion, compelled me to find her some food. As she prepared to leave, she said, "You are really an answer to a prayer."
Only then did I remember the eloquent, but empty prayer I had prayed. I realized we had both been praying that morning. My prayer had been a prayer of self-righteousness, and her prayer had been humble and heartfelt. She had been seeking God while I sought to impress. She had hoped for an answer while I had expected none.
My prayers of self-righteousness always ended with "Amen." Once I had impressed God and anyone else who would listen, my work was done. I had received my reward. There was no need to listen for God's reply. Prayer was a one-way conversation. It was only when I was exposed as a fraud--when I was broken and confronted with my pride--that I heard the voice of God. Once I heard his voice, I became more interested in what God had to say to me than what I could say to God.
I worry that we in the church are not hearing what Jesus said. Pastors and churches expend 99 percent of their time and energy on eloquent preaching, theological indoctrination, and institutional maintenance. Our priorities are not the priorities of Jesus. He wanted to make certain Peter would feed and care for the sheep. He asked them to give them something to eat.
Jesus taught his disciples to say "Give us this day our daily bread" because finding enough to eat was a serious problem. Jesus was making clear the first priority in establishing the kingdom of God-basic human needs must be met. When the church fails to feed God's children, the church fails.
Our group had taken several large plastic jars of peanut butter on our trip. When our stomachs began to reject the local food, some of us lived on peanut butter and crackers. One day we finished a jar and threw it away. A few minutes later we heard two women arguing loudly. They had found the jar and were fighting over it. They wanted to use it to store rice or beans. What does it mean to pray "Give us this day our daily bread" when some are fighting over our trash?
The Proper Use of Prosperity
The proper response to prosperity, even modest prosperity, is compassion.
One day, Jesus and his disciples were seeking a quiet place to eat and rest, but the crowd followed them. [Jesus told his disciples,] "You give them something to eat."
I can hear John saying, "Jesus, you are such a soft touch. These people made bad choices. They should have realized they would need food when they came out here. Do you want us to reward that irresponsibility?"
I can picture Judas holding up the common purse and saying, "Master, we need to be good stewards of what we've been given. If we feed these people today, then they'll just be hungry tomorrow. Do you want us to throw money down a rat's hole?
There are always excuses for not being compassionate.
Jesus simply asked, "How many loaves do you have?" Then he took five loaves and two fish, gave thanks for them, and told the disciples to share them with the people. You know the rest of the story: everyone ate and there were twelve baskets of broken pieces of bread and fish left over.
It was a miracle, but I don't think it was supernatural. I think what happened is that those people saw Jesus take the little food he had and offer it to them. I believe they were deeply moved by his compassion and generosity. Suddenly, the baskets and packages of food that had been hoarded and hidden by thousands of people were freely offered to those around them.
"Give us this day our daily bread" is a prayer of equality. It is a recognition of God's interest in more than just my needs. God cares for the needs of all. What God desires is not for some to be prosperous and others to be impoverished. God desires equality. He wants everyone to have enough.