July 28, 2013
ORDINARY 17 (C)
Father … give us each day our daily bread. – Luke 11: 2-3
In a certain seminary, a homiletics professor gave his students a book list to read in preparation for the final exam in his course. The test itself was to preach a sermon to the class based on a single word taken from one of the books on the list. The student was to go to the pulpit in the chapel, open a piece of paper on which the one word was written & preach a sermon on it.
One young man decided that since the book list contained only general background reading, he needn’t waste his time on it. Instead, he would rely on God to inspire him. When his turn came to preach, the one word was “Zacchaeus.” He waited desperately, but nothing came to him. So he preached one of the shortest three-point sermons in history: (1) “Zacchaeus was a little man & so am I. (2) Zacchaeus was up a tree & so am I. (3) Zaccheaus heard a compelling voice urging him to come down, & so do I” & down he came from the pulpit.
One of my seminary professors told us before handing out the final exam: “Gentlemen, if you haven’t studied, PRAYER won’t help you now!” Are we willing to do our spiritual homework? Are we willing to do the necessary work to make our own what Jesus is trying to tell us about the real secret of success in life?
Someone has said, “A secret is something either not worth telling or something that is too good to keep.” One of the dominant themes in scripture is a secret that the biblical writers obviously felt was too good to keep: the secret of life. And that secret is to be aware of our dependence upon God. Our Lord’s dependence upon His heavenly Father is the key to the secret of Jesus’ life, & that is reflected in the first word out of His mouth in response to the question about how to pray: “Father.” It continues in the petition, “give us each day or daily bread.”
Why are the poor in spirit blessed? Because they know they are poor, they know they have needs & they know they are dependent upon God for all of life’s necessities. Although this is at the heart of religion & is the secret of a right relationship with God, it goes against the grain of our common assumption, namely, independence!
The assumption that we humans are in control permeates American life, & boosted by the Horatio Alger myth of the self-made man. We are conquering outer space & disease, even though there is much yet to be learned. It is all just a matter of time. We can even create life in a test tube. So who needs God? This is why we find it difficult, if not humiliating, to pray “give us each day our daily bread.” The Bible makes it clear to declare independence from God is to commit spiritual suicide. It is a prescription for disaster. It cuts us off from the source of life itself.
The experience of a crisis MAY bring us close to the realization of our dependence on God, but once it passes we often slip back into a mood of independent self-reliance. Jesus tells us that the secret of success is the willingness to kneel down & humbly acknowledge or dependence on God’s grace, day-by-day & moment-by-moment.
Notice that the pronouns “us” & “our” are plural. In other words, it is not a prayer for us as individuals, but for all of humanity of which we are members. They point to our dependence upon others as well for the basic stuff of life. We bring all the hungry of the world into this prayer when we ask God to give us our daily bread, be it physical or spiritual. If we have more than our share, this is simply God’s way of channeling it to others. When the “haves” ignore the needs of the “have-nots,” they reject & impede God’s will & plan for us. Sooner or later, there will be a terrible price to pay.
The alternative is to realize that we do not have to be in control, that life is lived best on God’s terms, not our own. The secret of happiness is not found in buying all that advertisers would sell us, but in recognizing our interdependence & sharing what we have. Independence only begets isolation & loneliness. Dependence, especially on God, enables us to tremble with joy at the incredible prospect that God actually
Cares for us. AMEN !