My Dear Parishioners:
God gave Israel manna, “bread from heaven,” throughout their 40 years of wandering in the desert. Naturalists and historians still puzzle over what sort of substance this might have been. Its very name is based on the Hebrew of the question, “What is this?” In a way, the term “manna” could be translated as “What’s it.” God gave them “what’s it” in the desert to eat. God’s purpose was not only to feed his people but also to train them to trust and to obey. Most days, each head of household (tent) was to collect just what was needed by the household that day. Neither the industrious nor the hoarder was able to gather too much, nor could the less able gather too little. When measured, it all came out just right. They were told not to save any overnight most nights. Some, being contrary and disobedient tried to keep some overnight anyway, but what they stored spoiled. Only on the sixth day were they each to gather twice the daily portion. This was so that all could rest on the seventh day without having to gather food. Only over Sabbath night did the manna kept in reserve not spoil. Some, as usual and contrary to orders, did go out the first Sabbath morning to gather manna, but there was not any. It never appeared on the morning of the Sabbath. Six days each week there was manna, but never on Sabbath. Perhaps the main point of the lesson of the manna was that God sustained the people. By way of obedient trust, Israel would learn to be sustained by, rest with, rejoice in, and be refreshed by God. They were to learn that human beings “do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
This was not and is not an easy lesson to learn. Even now, we strain against the very thing we pray for when we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our fruitfulness, our success – for that matter our very existence – comes daily from God. Beyond all that, and more importantly, the main gift God seeks to give us, the gift, which answers the reason for our existence, the gift that creates the fruitfulness of our personal lives, is Jesus himself. Jesus Christ is our daily bread. Eucharist is our daily bread. The Divine Giver is now in Jesus Christ also personally the principal GIFT. But as St. Theresa of Avila commented, we prefer ready cash in our hands. We are inclined to settle for lesser wealth, things we can measure and control on our own. We are inclined to hoard the manna we can pick off the ground and to gather it on the Sabbath. Our motto is “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” We want what we want when we want it and how we want it. We are inclined to sniff at what God hands us and say, “No thank you, I’d rather not.” Rather than be God’s “day laborer” we want to win the power ball lottery and retire from the Lord’s service. That is the reason there are so many reality shows like American Idol and America Has Talent. People, some of who are grossly unaware of their talents and gifts (or lack thereof), simply want to make it big, overnight, and have possession of the CASH COW. And we love to watch them. It makes us feel good when someone makes it. How merciful is the Lord to have pity on our ignorance and foolishness.
Jesus Christ is offering himself and his Way to each person who enters the doors of the Church on the Lord’s Day. He identifies himself as God’s heavenly Bread, as “that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” If I am full of my own menu of needs, I am likely neither to receive Jesus as that sustenance which I most truly need, nor to find any of my own identified needs met by having gone to church. Why did God make us hungry? Why did God make us needy? Clearly, the main reason is to teach us to receive and to appreciate love, how to go out of ourselves as gift to another and to open ourselves to the gift of another. This is true both humanly and in our relationship with God. We can only attain the fullness of life for which we have been designed and created by receiving communion in God’s own life. Were we humans not born naked, hungry, ignorant, and dependent we could never discover the Gift of God. Those who dine on Christ eat and drink the saving Gift, which answers all their needs. Why spend our energies on what fails to satisfy? Instead, as the Scriptures say, “Taste and see the goodness of the Lord.”
Blessings, Fr. John