I want you to picture Jesus gathered with his disciples around the table for their last supper. Or think about Jesus at the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Hungry multitudes cover the hillside. Jesus takes the bread and the cup or the little boy’s lunch, lifts it up, and says the familiar prayer:
“Father, bless this food to the nourishment and strengthening of our bodies and us to Thy service. Amen.”
The Greek word for "gave thanks" (NIV) or "blessed" (KJV) is ευλογεο, from which we get our English word "eulogy." It means “to speak well of, to praise and extol.”
The word commonly translates the Hebrew word, כאראב, “barak,” “to bless.”
Every faithful Jew would offer this blessing before partaking of bread:
Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olom, ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz.
“Blessed is the Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who causes bread to come forth from the earth.”
Before partaking of the fish, the blessing was said this way:
Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehakol nih'yeh bidvaro.
“Blessed is the Lord, our God, Ruler of the universe, by whose word everything comes to be.”
Before partaking of wine, the blessing was said this way:
Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-alom, bor-ay peri ha-gafen.
“Blessed are You, O Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, creator of the fruit of the vine.”
The first word, כאראב, “barak” / ευλογεο reminds us to eulogize or praise God before we eat. It wasn’t the food Jesus was “speaking well of” or “blessing” He was speaking of His Father in heaven.
A second praying-before-meals word is the Greek word ευχαριστεο”, from which we get our English word “Eucharist,” often used as the name of Holy Communion. ευχαριστεο means, “to be thankful or to offer thanks,” and was used at the Last Supper.
“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed (ευλογεο) it and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
Then he took the cup, gave thanks (ευχαριστεο) and offered it to them saying, “Drink from it, all of you'“(Matthew 26:26-27).
At this Passover meal Jesus was offering to His Father the traditional blessings when bread and wine were eaten.
So how did we Christians end up blessing the food instead of God? Tradition? Habit? Some of the confusion may have come from a mistranslation of the passage I just quoted. In the King James Version, Matthew 26:26 reads:
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it and gave it, to the disciples, and said, 'Take, eat; this is my body.”' Notice how the tiny word “if was added after the word “blessed”?
The word “it” isn't part of the Greek text – that is why it is in italics in the King James Version. But “bless it” implies something far different than “bless God.” That addition of one little word may have turned the way we pray before meals into something Jesus did not do at all.
Not that there's anything wrong in asking a blessing from God. There's not. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” —
But only after praise: “Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. “
No, asking favors from God is not wrong, but it should not be the primary part of our praying, or we become like greedy little children: “Gimme this! Gimme that!” Those prayers are essentially selfish rather than self-giving. They don't fulfill either the First Great Commandment, to love God with all our heart, or the Second, to love our neighbor as ourselves.
The Apostle Paul put it in this perspective. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4:6).
Notice the phrase “with thanksgiving” tucked in there with “present your requests to God.” It's essential to keep prayer God-centered rather than self-centered. It's also the key to praying with real faith.
So when you pray, remember that your food doesn't deserve a blessing nearly so much as God who gave it. You can bless like Jesus did, “Blessed is the Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, who causes bread to come forth from the earth.” Or offer a simple prayer of thanks to God for the food. Next time, do not “ask the blessing,” but offer a blessing to God.