Above the desk of Bill Ackmann, the Dean of Students at Concordia College in the 1950's, was the motto Ora et Laboura, Pray and Work. It is one of those simple sayings that turns out to be complex and difficult. We pray that our heavenly Papa give us our daily bread and then promptly go out into the field and work as if our lives depended on it.
Many people do not pray at all and yet, if they work hard, are prosperous and even happy. At the same time, there are some who pray at lot but, if they do not work, are poor and unhappy. Clearly, in the real world that our Creator gives us, we must earn our living. He makes that deal with all of Adam's descendants, believers and non believers, in Genesis 3: We will eat by the sweat of our brow. The exceptions prove or test the rule. When some careless heiress blows millions she has not earned, we don't like it, it is not fair. When someone wins the lottery or gets a lucky break and his or her company becomes monster large, we shake our heads. It is not fair. But aside from noticing that the world is full of accident and contingency, this sense of unfairness shows how deeply He has implanted in all people the idea of an earned wage.
How does He provide us bread? This means, of course, everything we need for life and happiness: shelter, food, medicine, police and fire protection, tools to earn a living, education, roads, electric power… In the ancient world it was no different but the exchanges were pots and flints, meat and berries, childcare and protection from wild beasts. Think about this a little while. How does He keep His promise to give us daily bread? Does it drop out of the sky like manna did in Sinai? Or does it come from the hands of other people? Bread comes from the baker and the grocery store, a car comes to us from a whole universe of people all over the planet, a wage comes to us from our boss or our customers, a roof comes to us from able-bodied men, a hair cut comes to us from skilled human hands. The list is too long to know for any man, computer, or bureaucracy. The people who work in this world economy are the agents of our God to provide us our daily bread, even when they are not Christians or Jews. So we also are His agents to do our job which provides others with what they need for their lives. Sure we get paid, why not?
His economy is not give away so you can live comfortably without lifting a finger. Sweat of the brow is His economy. Like a good parent, He knows that growing our character is as important as growing our bodies and like a good parent He insists that we work for our money, we do not receive an allowance for resting on the couch, we grow up learning to provide for ourselves. He does not want helpless dependents but able assistants. Therefore this petition requires the work it rewards with bread.
So when we stand or kneel together and say this petition we are promising our Papa and our fellow human beings that we will work and produce goods and services they need and in the same breath we are asking to be given our due wage, our daily bread. The whole thing is a gift, the whole great system of exchange and specialization, of trade and money, of wage and labor is the gift of our God to the whole world, not just the church.
Remember that in Rome, at the same time our lord taught us this petition, bread was free, provided by the state, as in
Bread and Circus! Sometimes that sounds pretty good to us. Just replace Caesar with God and we are good to go. After all, there is injustice in the world. When things do not work out as we plan, then what? Well, I worked hard but have nothing to show for it. I cannot pay my mortgage and eat. I cannot afford to send my daughter to the college she wants. Sometimes I feel like a failure, or just unlucky. Everyone of us has known, if only for a moment, that feeling of
What's the use? It is all luck or maybe God really does love my sister more than me. Why not just give up and sit here, waiting for somebody else to take care of me?
The odd thing is that sometimes we think like this when things are going pretty good. By any measure the poorest of us today have better food, better shelter, better health, longer lives, and safer conditions than kings in all of history. Yet we still know…jealousy. Because too often in our minds injustice is not that we do not have enough but that somebody else has more. And the blackest of sins has room to grow in us because we realize others are jealous of us and we nurture guilt, the modern replacement for repentance. That is a hellish combination, jealous and guilty at the same time.
It is when are in this
Woe is me! mode that we covet what our neighbor has and turn to the artificial economies of political power, crime, victim-hood, and religious hucksters who promise heavenly welfare instead of grace and charity. This is the sin that most consumes nations today, turning away from the covenant Ha Shem offered Adam and Eve of sweat and bread, and substituting some ideology of political or religious utopia. Blame somebody else for the lack of equality. We Christians are also too often swept up by this same quest for an artificial Garden of Eden and diverted from our real jobs. Worse, we are diverted from the real cure for human misery and hunger: the charity that springs from gratitude for His gifts to us.
Then why bother with this petition,
Give us this day our daily bread? Because with this petition our lord brings Adam's curse firmly inside a covenant where promise and gift are connected by love. The sweat of our brow is no longer just an exchange in the natural way of the human economy, but it has now become our gift and sacrifice of gratitude to our God.
He came to our world and worked for a wage. Remember our lord was a construction worker, a better translation of the Greek than carpenter. He did not live off taxes or temple sacrifices, although He turned out to be the only true King and High Priest. In His productive work for a wage He shows us how this covenant of work and bread is meant to operate. He could have made bread out of stones. Instead He worked hard, perhaps on one of King Herod's great building projects, to earn His wages. This is a profoundly redemptive act, that the true King and High Priest should pick up a shovel with the slaves and day laborers, and do productive work. In this act He is redeeming the world of ordinary commerce, keeping the old covenant of sweat and bread He first entered into with Adam and Eve. By working for a wage He demonstrates His method of giving us our daily bread.
But there is more. His greatest miracle was the feeding of the five thousand, not by magic or unnatural stunts, but by the simple act of example and sharing, of breaking bread and offering it to all. Still in the covenant with Adam, He showed us that the resources to provide bread for all are available from each one of us. We need no supernatural or political miracles to give us our daily bread but only our natural human resources and mutual trust and honesty between us all. Wait. That is a supernatural miracle, that His example and Word engenders trust and honesty into the human heart.
The gifts He has given us create a new heart within us, a heart of charity and generosity to all people. When we see want, we give. When we see hunger, we feed. When we see danger, we protect. When we see jealousy and fear, we comfort and speak the Good News of His love.
But there is more. Another bread is given to us, the bread of His New Covenant, His very self and flesh in the bread of the Eucharist. Not like the covenant of sweat with Adam which is not optional, but natural and universally human. The New Covenant includes the old one and completes it with more than justice, more than fair play, more than honest dealings. Now love and charity flow from Him to us and therefore, by His grace, from us to all people. Just as the bread we bring to the Eucharist becomes His Body, so we who bring ourselves to the Eucharist become His Body for the whole world. And now the hardest work begins and the greatest wage is paid.
Give us this day our daily bread.
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