Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1) Ex 16:2-4, 12-15
Psalm 78:3-4, 23-25, 54
2) Eph 4:17, 20-24
Gospel: Jn 6:24-35
In the wilderness east of Egypt after they escape from enslavement, the Israelites think back to the diet they enjoyed before their liberation. “We sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread” is how they remember it.
Really? Were slaves being worked to death on government construction projects supplied with all the beef stew and baked goods they wanted?
But if their memories are playing tricks on them, this may indicate their condition. They are obsessing about food. Modest meals of the past are expanding in their imaginations into huge feasts.
The reason is that they have nothing to eat. Probably only readers who have lived through famine or endured the chronic malnourishment of poverty can understand how hunger affects the mind.
The Israelites lash out at Moses. “You had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” Here again their memory is distorted. At great danger to himself, Moses led them free from a genocidal regime. Why blame him?
“Would that we had died … in the land of Egypt,” they scream.
Beneath the despair and rage, can we sense the fear?
Well, we might respond, listening to the episode being read in the liturgy, here we sit in church, with our faith in God. Why don’t the Israelites exercise faith in God?
Hasn’t he just saved them from the Egyptian army with a spectacular miracle at the Red Sea? Why don’t they make an appeal to him — you know, a prayer of the faithful? “For bread in the wilderness, let us pray to the Lord.” “Lord, hear our prayer.”
After all he has done for them, God must be steamed at their lack of faith!
If this is the direction of our thinking, perhaps God’s statement in the book of Isaiah is apt. “My thoughts are not your thoughts” (Is 55:8). God responds to the Israelites’ fury without a spark of wrath or a rumble of rebuke. He simply informs Moses that meat and bread are about to be delivered.
Did the Israelites deserve such lavish treatment? Apparently that issue was not uppermost in God’s mind. The question God seems to have asked himself is, How can I help these hungry people?
As we look around our country and our world, perhaps that is a question we too should ask.
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Perrotta is the editor and an author of the “Six Weeks With the Bible” series, teaches part time at Siena Heights University and leads Holy Land pilgrimages. He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.