instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Give us this day only our daily bread

Today's proverb:
Two things I ask of you, deny them not to me before I die:
Put falsehood and lying far from me,
give me neither poverty nor riches;
provide me only with the food I need;
Lest, being full, I deny you, saying, "Who is the LORD?"
Or, being in want, I steal, and profane the name of my God.
 Some thoughts on this:
  • "Give me neither poverty nor riches" is a lot easier to pray if you're far from being, or becoming, rich.
  • "Give me neither poverty nor riches" is a lot easier to pray than, "Provide me only with the food I need."
  • If the "only" of "Provide me only with the food I need" were implied by "Give us this day our daily bread," that would take a great leap forward in the competition for the title of Least Sincerely Prayed Petition of the Lord's Prayer.
  • Note how material sufficiency is aligned with a virtue that lies between the extremes of denying God -- specifically, denying our dependency upon His goodness -- and profaning His Name. Material goods are not merely the means by which we effect acts of justice and love toward each other, they have a direct impact on our relationship with God.
  • The proverb matches well with the Parable of the Rich Fool. The rich man thought the problem his bountiful harvest caused was a lack of room to store it. Whenever we obtain bounty, though, we should first ask, "Do I risk being full and denying God?"
  • "Being in want, I steal" seems to contradict the argument that "it is lawful for a man to succor his own need by means of another's property, by taking it either openly or secretly: nor is this properly speaking theft or robbery." I see four ways to resolve this:
    1. Yes, it's a contradiction, and the Catholic tradition is wrong. (I'm not keen on this way; I include it for the sake of completeness, but I think one of the following is more probable.)
    2. It's a material contradiction, in that the inspired author does not intend to distinguish between theft and licit succoring by means of another's property. It's not a formal contradiction, however, in that the inspired author does not intend to deny such a distinction. It's a proverb, after all, not a moral treatise, and his concern is to avoid the vices that scandalize the poor.
    3. It's not a contradiction; we should read it as a conjunction: "I steal AND profane the name of my God." Licitly succoring by means of another's property does not profane God's name, so such acts are not what the author has in mind.
    4. It's not a contradiction; we should read "steal" generically as "take another's property" and understand the author's main concern as the scandal to others, who may be unaware of the right of the hungry man, who claims to belong to God, to food in the possession of another.
  • I'll make the unlikely-to-be-previously-unsuggested suggestion that the two things the proverbialist asks for are related; that we might associate falsehood with denying God and lying with profaning His name. It's false to assert that God is unknown or uninvolved in my amassing of riches; it's a lie to say, "I belong to God," while sinning.
  • To reverse the previous thought, I wonder if love of truth and truth-telling is, I'll say discordant with material excess and material want. That is, might it be that the further you are, one way or another, from having the things you need, and only those things, the more attractive falsehood and lies seem?
And yes, that's a lot of words just to distract myself from the question, "Should I be asking God for these two things?"