Tuesday, February 20, 2018

balance in the Our Father

Tuesday of the first week of Lent. The Gospel reading at Mass today is about the prayer that the Lord taught his disciples, the “Our Father.”

I was struck by a detail. When the prayer turns from words about God to words about us, we make two requests – for bread and for forgiveness, for hospitality and for healing and forgiveness. The second request has a balance: forgive us as we forgive others. But the request doesn’t have anything like that, just gimme. Why?

I think that the nature of hospitality, following Abraham, includes balance, has a built-in balance. The host-guest relationship, like a marriage, reflects the life of the Trinity: it starts with two people, but moves inexorably toward unity. We welcome the Lord, and he feeds us: who’s the host?

Why do we ask for bread, not – say – meat and potatoes, or kasha, or lovely rice pudding again? Why bread? Well, bread is the classic basic food: when you’re packing to travel across the desert, bring some compact bread. Bread is simple, but evocative: see Neruda’s “Ode to Bread.” It’s a common food, simple nutrition, familiar to billions of people; but also, it’s been used in religion (Eucharist) and politics (French Revolution). It touches every level of human life. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. Mostly, it’s the most familiar symbol we have of unity: when we break bread together, this isn’t just about our bodies.

Give us bread, and draw us into forgiveness: hospitality and healing are conjoined everywhere.

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