It’s the only piazza in Rome without a single church. And yet congregants gather in this square every day except on Sunday mornings. They gather to purchase their daily needs of fresh produce such as vegetables, cheese, spices, fish, meat and flowers. Other products are for sale too, many of which are touristy and not needed by anyone.
A trip to Campo de’ Fiori for modern day food shoppers is like a trip back in time. It is basically the only open air market you can find in the center of Rome. There you can see remnants of a rhythm long lost to our modern way of life. There was a day when people could not store up their food as we do. A daily trip to the market to buy what was needed for the day was routine.
This was true in first century Israel, especially when talking about bread. Bread was so basic a food that it became synonymous with life itself. “Eating bread” came to mean, “eating a meal.” Bread was made daily in the home or people would buy it daily at the local market. This was a daily task because it was not possible to keep food for more than a day in the hot climate. The people of the first century were dependent on God to take care of their daily needs.
Not so much us. Our pantries and refrigerators are full enough to last days if not weeks. And so what makes sense to those first century listeners makes little to us when Jesus instructed us to pray “Give us today our daily bread.” “Why ask for that?” we wonder.
One answer is that there is something formative about asking for bread. Those of us who live in America feel little need to ask for bread. We have a loaf in our pantry and a couple in the freezer. And if those run out, we can run out to the convenience store and stock up again. We can take care of a bread shortage on our own.
And that’s our problem with this phrase. It is a request, and a request implies the need for help. We sense that we are self-sufficient. We’re one step away from seeing ourselves as the providers of our own bread. By kneading the line “give us this day our daily bread” into our prayers, Jesus reminds us that God will take care of us. The request forms the one requesting.
Another answer is that we ask for daily bread because we need bread daily to live. In the wilderness God gave his people manna on a day to day basis. Physical needs are not to be ignored. It is perfectly fine to ask for needs. And God would want us to ask for specific needs. He is well aware of what we need and will give us what we need. We may not receive all we want. Our clothes might come from Marshalls instead of Macy’s. Our food from eating in instead of dining out. You might drive a ’99 Miata instead of a 2017 version. But he’ll give us what we need.
But there is another bread for which we should ask. When Karen and I first married I thought there were only a couple of options. At our house growing up it was either Mrs. Baird’s or Holsum. Then I married into a family of bread freaks. A whole world of bread opened up before my eyes. French. Sourdough. Bagels and Baguettes. Pita and Pumpernickel. I didn’t know what I had been missing.
And neither did the disciples. One day they left Jesus by a well in Samaria to find food in town. While they were gone he had a lively conversation with a woman at the well. When the disciples returned they urged Jesus to eat some of the food they brought back and he said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” Like me not knowing about other bread the disciples didn’t know there was another kind of sustenance. They said to each other, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” Jesus explained, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
There is the food that nourishes our bodies. And there is the food that nourishes our souls. Later Jesus would explain that he is the “manna” that has come down from heaven.” When we are nourished by him we find life, even eternal life. The people were focused on bread of heaven that comes in a loaf. Jesus moved their focus to himself, bread of heaven that comes in his life.
We live in an America full of overeaters who are underfed. Ask for bread daily. Ask: you will be reminded that the Father cares about you. Ask for bread: both physical and spiritual. Ask daily: you can’t store up on manna. It comes daily.
You may not go to an open air market for your daily bread. But you can go to your Father. When you do he’ll give you all you need for today.
Question: What do you need for today?