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Ar n-aran laitheil

"Give us today our daily bread." Matthew 6. 11

Do you ever wonder what Jesus is instructing us to ask for in this fourth petition of the Lord's Prayer? It sounds straightforward enough, until you start thinking about it... Is Jesus referring to manna from heaven or the more ordinary stuff that we put in our toasters? Is he talking about food at all, or might this be a metaphorical reference to the essential knowledge we need to live faithfully? Or are our thoughts being directed to the cross via Holy Communion: "This bread is my body, broken for you..."?

The intriguing thing is that the word translated "daily" appeared to have been coined by Jesus. Of the original "epiousios" there were no other examples of its use anywhere in Greek literature. Kenneth Bailey, who grew up in the Middle East and so understands the Middle Eastern mindset better then most, wrote a book called "Jesus through Middle Eastern Eyes' in which he claims that early Christians understood the word in four ways, two of which had to do with time and the other two concerned quantity. For some it was about bread for today, for others it was for tomorrow; for some it was just enough bread, for others it was an ample sufficiency. What united these interpretations was the collective element signified by the adjective "our". We are not to pray possessively for "my" bread but considerately for the bread "we" need.

Eventually someone found an obscure relic which shone a light on the interpretation of Jesus' enigmatic petition - on a shopping list! A woman from the ancient world had written "epiousios" next to a specific item, with the clear intention of reminding herself that this was something she must have in. So we are to pray for our necessities and not just that which satisfies me personally but that which meets our collective requirement. Bailey suggests rendering the verse: "Give us today the bread that does not run out." Wouldn't that be every housewife's - and househusband's - dream!

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