Give Us This Day…

The Bread Line

This painting is called “The Zemstvo Dines,” and was painted in 1872 by a Russian artist named Myasoedov Grigory Grigorievich. “What the heck is zemstvo?” you ask. It was a type of local government set up during post-reform Russia of the 1860s. It was meant to provide a common voice for all citizens, but it didn’t quite work out that way. Go figure. These types of things rarely do. Seventy-four percent of the zemstvo members were nobles, even though nobles were a tiny minority of the population. This painting reflects the realities of the unequal status between those nobles and the peasants. The peasants received their meal, which was a piece of bread and an onion, while, over their heads through the open window, servants are wiping dry the dinner plates of the nobles who have just had their fill.

If I were to put myself in this painting, I would be the one in the dining room above the peasants. The waiter would be cleaning up after I’ve had my fill. Would I give mind to those outside my window who do not have enough?

When we pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” in the Lord’s Prayer, what do we mean? Luther points out that we shouldn’t take this to only mean our daily ration of food, but also to look at the social dimension of this prayer. For all to get their daily bread, there must be a thriving economy, good employment, and a just society. Therefore, Luther says, to pray “give us—all the people of our land—daily bread” is to pray against “wanton exploitation” in business, trade, and labor, which “crushes the poor and deprives them of their daily bread.” To pray for our daily bread is to also pray for a prosperous and just social order.

Being Human connection: Augustine reminds us that “daily bread” is a metaphor for necessities, not luxuries. Yes, I ask that my necessities be met, but I also ask that I be compelled to help others so that their necessities may be met as well. A thriving economy, good employment, and a just society are something we can all agree we desperately need.

Featured image: “The Zemstvo Dines,” by Myasoedov Grigory Grigorievich, 1872. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.