Today’s needful thing

Still slightly obsessing about the so-called ‘Lord’s prayer’; so fascinating that the first half of it is big global things and the second half is local, personal things, sky-wide things and fingertip things.

The prayer for daily bread, that kicks off the second half, is intriguing. There’s a one-off appearance of a word: ἐπιούσιος (epiousios). This word only appears in the two references to the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6 and Luke 11), and nowhere else in the New Testament, and nowhere else in Greek literature anywhere. Ever. At all. Rowan Williams, who was an archbishop once, and who lives in our city, says the exact meaming has remained ‘elusive’. Indeed. Guesses include the word ‘needful’. ‘Give us each day our needful bread.’

It may also be related to the verb ἐπιοῦσα (epiousa) which seems to mean, ‘to come later.’ Williams suggests ‘bread of tomorrow’ I think, and that makes sense since it follows from the lines about ‘your kingdom come’ and ‘your will be done’. Give us each day a foretaste of tomorrow, as it were. Alternatively, it might mean, give us what we will need today for what will come later today.

Either way, it’s the ‘daily’ I like. It is interesting how much prayer in practice and in my observation is conveniently shuffled into the future. Now at one level this is fair enough: the answer may happen in the future. But Jesus teaches us to pray about today, pray about what you need today, today, today. Give me the needful bread today. Give me a taste of the future today. Give me it today. Not necessarily everything I’m going to need, but everything I’m going to need today.

I’ve seen prayer for healing done so badly. I’ve watched churches pray for people with cancer. Heal them sometime, in the future, please, at some point, ideally before they peg out. Pray this way if you want but it is not what Jesus taught us to do. Give us what we need for today, today.

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