Thursday, January 26, 2017

This daily bread

I am sitting here working through the Lord's Prayer in Matthew 6. It is the foundation for my sermon Sunday. I am cruising along doing some work in Greek (yes, I still have a little functionality in the language). I am working down through some alternate translations to squeak out subtle meaning that is lost in the rote recitation we sometimes fall into. There is some interesting things for study and preaching. The one thing that is stopping me to write this is one little word: epiousios.

The familiar phrase is "give us this day our daily bread". Every word in that phrase is common and easily understood except for epiousios - daily. All my life I have visualized and understood this phrase to mean that God is providential to the level of taking care of our daily needs. And it is a refreshing thought to know that our creating God is also compassionate toward our insignificant needs of daily providing. That is the kind of God we have.

The word, though, is strange. It appears to be a unique word to Matthew and Luke. Not just in the Bible, either. It seems that this word is unique in the Koine Greek language of the contemporaries of the Gospel. Origen, an early Christian theologian from around the 2nd/3rd Century, even attests that the word is unique in Greek language (Thayer's Expanded Greek Definition, Electronic Database.Copyright © 2002, 2003, 2006, 2011 by Biblesoft, Inc). That means that this word, most likely, does not just mean "daily". Other uses of "daily" are translated from kata, a preposition of direction or motion or diffusion. That word needs its own study. That means the only two uses of epiousios are in the Lord's prayer.

There are multiple suggestions for how to translate and interpret this word. Each changes the implication of the caring God slightly.
  1. Thayer's goes with the default understand of the "bread of sustaining." A bread that sustains us along the daily journeys we undertake.
  2. Thayer's also uses the understanding of "the bread that suffices from day to day." Each of these emphasizes the daily provision.
  3. Abbot-Smith offers three variations. The first is "bread for the coming day." It is not the bread of today, but the bread of tomorrow.
  4. Abbot-Smith's second variation is "bread of sustenance" or "needful bread". It is the bread necessary for life.
  5. The final variation Abbot-Smith offers is "bread pertaining to today." It is the bread that we have before us this day.
It is a real head scratcher. And it may seem insignificant in the grand picture of the Bible. But for me, it is challenging and reassuring.

This is challenging because we have a word in the New Testament that we don't know what it means with exact precision. For people who believe that every word of the Bible is written in cement and we know what God is about, this is not a problem. They don't seem to care that there are mysteries still to be dug up within the Bible. For people who believe that every word of the Bible was inspired into the minds of a writer, then this is fascinating. God inspired a writer to use a word that no one else was using. God inspired a writer to create or transform a word in order to declare something new.

It is reassuring that God is affirmed as the providing God. None of these translations take away from the God who sees our needs and provides. None of this undermines the work of God to bring something to us that will sustain us; whether today or tomorrow or day-by-day. God sustains us in the bread for each day's need that sustains us for every day. It is a bread that maybe some don't know they need. It is a bread that some may long and hunger for, yet cannot determine its source.

Perhaps it is a bread that you and I offer to the world at large. It is a bread we pray for in faith that God will provide, so we have it in supply. It is a bread that sustains life and we know that life is more than flesh and blood, mouth and stomach.

Perhaps it is the bread that sustains that accompanies the water that quenches thirst forevermore. It is not a sliced white bread or an ovenbaked flatbread. It is not even gluten filled or gluten free. It is a bread that begins to be formed within us on a daily basis when we turn our lives over to God in complete surrender. It is a bread that nourishes us through the days of our living from a Spirit that inhabits our lives. It is a bread that fills us with peace and hope and faith and joy because we know the Baker, the Savior, the Redeemer, the Healer, the Christ, the Son of God - Jesus.

Footnote: This was written in the midst of a spiritual winter. Today has been one of those days that being a pastor is less about what I can do and overwhelming about the knowledge that I can do nothing. Within the span of 3 hours I had been updated on 7 different lives that were experiencing stress. All of them were people I know. Some of them were family. Some of them were like family. All of them were experiencing pain and worry, anxiety and stress. And I can do nothing to help them. All I can do is pray.

Father God, Jesus my Lord, and Holy Spirit who brings life and order - give me and all those I hold in my heart this epiousios bread. Amen.