How much eating and drinking goes on in the Bible? At this point in my studies, I have no earthly idea. I know there’s a lot of it and I’m thinking that’s because of its symbolic nature. Because isn’t God always trying to feed us some kind of wisdom?
Yes, it is God who is shown to be feeding his children, whether that’s earthly food or spiritual food. The food is usually given by someone, representing God or not, and it’s usually to expand on a point being made.
Take today’s First Reading. The Israelites are given a surfeit of bread and meat, but only after complaining that they had nothing and were angry at Moses for taking them away from their plentiful larders in Egypt. Moses told them how to gather the manna which they would find on the surface of the desert. In the rest of the chapter of Exodus they are given the specifics of how much and when to gather it. And they were also given quail to eat in the evening.
But the Israelites took this as their due, hearing that God provided for them, but not thinking about its source and adopting it as simply part of what they would find on their daily journey.
Now remember today’s Psalm. It speaks of what God did for his people, but there is no mention of thanks, celebration, or appreciation. They just eat it.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus again must instruct his disciples that first, the bread they eat comes from God’s bounty and his love. And second, they are told that the bread being talked about is not really flour and water, but is actually the only true nourishment we need, the love of God and the following of his precepts. So all through the Bible, and all through my life, and I’ll bet yours, too, the people of God and I must constantly be reminded that we can’t go this alone and that what we receive in life is not necessarily from our own efforts.
So, while we read or hear the stories about those faithless, fickle Israelites and disciples, we are just fooling ourselves if we feel superior. Well, I did when I was younger. It’s taken some years under my belt to recognize that I can’t one-up anybody in the Bible. Not by a long shot.
The lessons: the Israelites complained and God, through Moses, heard their call and responded with assistance in the form of bread and meat, and later, water. Second, all we have to do is come to Jesus, and believe, and we’ll be saved.
This really is good news!
However (isn’t there always a “but” when we study scripture?) let’s go back to the Second Reading. Those Ephesians, always needed correction and reminders! Here is my point: there’s one step that needs to be considered in all this accepting, believing, turning oneself over. Action, through the deliberate changing of our minds.
Let me digress for a moment by way of example. Years ago, our local Air Force Base was scheduled to be closed under new laws reducing the size of the military. I was on the City Council back then and was selected to fly with a group of community leaders to five closed bases around the country to see what could, and should, and should not be done with the surplus land and assets. One of that group was a guy from a very large, international company. He was their public face, PR director, representative to the region of the corporation. He was boisterous, supremely self-confident, blustery at times, and the epitome of all that I disliked about Corporate America…or so I thought. I was mortified that I would have to spend a week with him in close quarters, daily contact, and as a recipient of what I considered his wrongheaded persona. I dreaded it. A whole week! I was really in a tizzy about the trip and not looking forward to it at all, even though we’d be traveling from Maine to New Mexico and several places in between…dreading it, I tell you.
And after a few days of this unpleasant prospect, I thought wait, maybe I should re-think this. I remembered my mother telling me at one point in my life, “You can put up with anything for a week.” She actually said this in relation to another looming dread-filled week.
You can put up with anything for a week.
God provides for us.
OK, there is one step that I keep forgetting: making the change. I have to DO something, not just wish a change would happen.
Back to the Ephesians. Paul says, “…that you should put away the old self of your former way of life…” Put away. Positive action. Deliberate movement. Picking up the burden and taking the first few steps.
The other day on Fresh Air, Terry Gross’s interview program on National Public Radio, Michael Scott Moore was interviewed. He is the American journalist who was captured by Somali pirates and held for two and a half years. It was a miserable time, through which he suffered every day. Until one day he heard Pope Francis on the radio urging us to forgive our enemies. At that point, he says, he “made a conscious decision to forgive my guards, to forgive the most immediate people who were causing me pain. That was an incredible mental transformation. Once I reordered my brain like that, I no longer had that impulse to kill myself. It was a daily discipline, but it worked. And it was also a good thing that I had pen and paper at that time so I could write and I could distract myself, but that mental orientation was absolutely crucial.”
There it is: you can change your life. You can choose the way you accept your surroundings, your circumstances. But first, you must actually do it. And just like Michael Scott Moore, it must be a “daily discipline.” We must work at it.
And that’s why there are so many reminders in scripture. Not that we don’t hear it the first time, but that we are reminded time and again to get up, get moving, and create the change in our outlook. Get going. The bread is there, we just have to go out and gather it every day. We can do it.
Let us pray. Lord, help me to remember that nothing is going to happen to me today that you, and I, together, can’t handle.