As [Jesus] taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40
The widow who gives her last two coins to the temple treasury has been the cornerstone of many a congregational stewardship campaign. “See how generous that poor widow was?” we tell each other. “We should be that generous, too.” We make her poverty a virtue in itself, missing the anger in Jesus’ voice as he watches her make the payment that will leave her hungry.
Don’t mistake the words and Argentine traditional tune of “God Bless to Us Our Bread” for sentimentality or simplicity, either. This version of the Latin American Bread Prayer, arranged by John Bell, was originally published in a collection of hymns called Love and Anger, which connected biblical themes of justice with traditions of protest music and poetry around the world. The text of the Latin American Bread Prayer — usually a version of “to all those with bread give a hunger for justice, and to all those who hunger give bread” — emerged in the second half of the twentieth century as the liberation theology of Central and South America became more widely known in North America. It expands the petition of the Lord’s Prayer about daily bread to address issues of hunger and justice. In the prayer, the poor need more than charity: they need bread, real changes that will improve real lives. Significantly, the rich are also in need of prayer. They need God to kindle their hunger for justice so that the poor will be more than the recipients of their philanthropy.
Wealthier people and powerful nations have long sentimentalized poverty as a virtue and the poor as innocent, simple objects of well-intentioned but misplaced charity. Institutions as small as congregations and as large as governments often find it easier to choose what is good for their poorer neighbors rather than consulting them first, only to be frustrated when canned goods too heavy for a long walk home or unsuited for a family’s health needs are abandoned on the curb by the food pantry. This is one moment when we need to sing the bread prayer, that God will make us hungry for true justice instead of cheap charity.
Bulletin version: As Jesus observes the temple treasury with his disciples, only a few days before his death, he sees the widow lose her financial security, and he is angry. This is the world he came to turn upside down. As we sing “God Bless to Us Our Bread,” we pray for God’s power to stir in the space where the hunger for food and the hunger for justice meet. We pray for our bread to make us hungry.