Lectionary Passage: Exodus 16: 2-3, 9-15
2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”… 9Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ 10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12“I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“ 13In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
Fear comes easily in the wilderness. We convince ourselves that we will not have what we need. We convince ourselves that we are mistreated and that everything is hopeless. We identify then with this story. Here they were—they had been wandering in the wilderness for a long time. They were hungry and saw no way to alleviate that hunger. When they had left Egypt, they had been filled with hope. There was new life ahead. But here they were—alone, forsaken, and seeing no way out of this predicament. They were thinking about the place that they had left. It was hard there too. They were enslaved to the culture, their life was not their own, and they had no way forward. But they had enough to eat. That was at least something. They were very afraid.
And once again, the Lord speaks. God assures Moses that they are not alone. God tells Moses that the people have been heard, that God has heard their complaints and surely knows the fears they feel. Help is on the way! Each evening, quails will cover the camp, providing the people with meat. And each morning, as the dew lifts, it will leave behind a gift. Covering the wilderness will be a fine, flaky substance. It will be the bread that the people need, the sustenance for life. Do not fear! The Lord has come.
This passage doesn’t really let us know what the peoples’ response was to the provision of this food. It goes on to describe the notion that the food was only provided for the gathering. There was no way to keep and hold the food for later. (Apparently the wilderness has no doggie-bags!) So, the questions that arise for us include whether or not we allow our preconceived notions of what we should have get in the way of what God provides. Are we so focused on what we need that we miss what God provides? And, probably just as importantly, what happens when our fears of not having enough, our innate need to keep and hold onto what we have, gets in the way of sharing with others or even readying ourselves for God to provide for us yet again?
Lent has always typically been a season of denying oneself. And while, for me, giving up chocolate is so hard that it does indeed become a spiritual experience, perhaps we sometimes miss the point. If you are one of those people that has given something up for Lent, don’t forget to focus not on what you’re denying yourself but why. See, this journey through the wilderness reminds us that God will provide and teaches us to be open to the way that happens—again and again and again. Maybe it’s not what we had in mind. Maybe it’s not what we would have ordered from Door Dash. Maybe it’s not even the thing for which we were actually hungering. Maybe it will turn out to be quails and some sort of bizarre flaky substance attached to the bushes. God does not provide what we want; God provides what we need. And for those of us who are overfed and over-indulged and accustomed to getting exactly what we want, the lesson IS what we need.
You have succeeded in life when all you really want is only what you really need. (Vernon Howard)
Grace and Peace,