Before Mass -
"Give us this day our daily bread."
Ever wonder what this ‘daily bread’ is? Today we hear part of the story – but once again, we don’t hear the whole thing, so I want to summarize. Remember God delivered the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt – well, in our first reading today we’ll hear how God fed them with manna in the desert. Literally, manna means ‘what is it’, because it was something they’d never seen before. Exodus described it as ‘like coriander seed, white, and it tasted like wafers made with honey’. Based on that description, I’d say it looked something similar to ‘this’… (hold up host wafer). It’s not a coincidence that this manna resembled what we use on our altar even today!!!
The Hebrews were instructed to collect their ‘daily bread’ - literally – they would go out each morning to collect a specific amount of bread for their family to eat that day. If they took too much and tried to keep it until the next day, it would rot and get stinky overnight – except on Friday, they could collect twice as much so that they wouldn’t have to collect on the Sabbath day. So quite literally, this was their ‘daily bread’.
So – today pay attention to the context of the first reading – it starts out with grumbling, which is where the homily begins.
Was God upset that the Hebrews were grumbling? At first, it would seem like it – those ungrateful brats, I just brought them out of Slavery and defeated the greatest army on earth – I led them thru the Red Sea, I provided water in the desert – surely by now they would trust me to take care of them! But NOOOO… they’re hangry…. Is that what God would have thought?
At first it seems that way – but – God made us and He knows how we human react to discomforts. These people had been pulled from slavery, yes, but it was also a stable way of life – they knew what to expect every day – they knew where their next meal would come from - they knew that Pharoah and the gods of the Egyptians would provide their daily bread. Yeah they were slaves – but shucks – that’s a minor inconvenience compared to walking in the hot sun of the desert all day without food and water – and they weren’t even sure where they were going….there was no light at the end of the tunnel. There was no hope left… Any one of us would be grumbling right along with them…. I think God knew that – but He knew he had them right where He needed them: hangry in the desert.
See – getting them out of Egypt was the easy part. Now He had to get Egypt out of them. God had to wean them away from all of the support systems they’d grown accustomed to in order to get them to place their trust in Him…. Because as long as they were still addicted to the gods of Egypt, they weren’t really free.
This was hard – really hard. Worshipping the gods of Egypt was attractive… it involved gluttony and drunkenness and lustful pleasures… notice those are the same activities that all of us get addicted to. That was surely sounded a lot more fun than eating manna in the desert. God KNEW they would grumble because that’s normal when ANYone is breaking free from the slavery to an addiction. They’re always looking back thinking, this pain I’m experiencing now is WAY worse than the pain I experienced in that slavery… I prefer the pain of my chains over the pain of my freedom.
It makes me think of a woman who is beaten by her husband… she may think of walking away, but the fear of the unknown stops her… where would she live, how would she get food, and if there are kids involved, it’s that much harder to make the move. This is not a judgement at all – but often for any of us, the chains on our wrists are easier than the chains of fear: Slavery looks easier than freedom. Can we relate to that? If you’ve ever tried to walk away from addiction, you know how the Hebrews felt… Any major change in life requires leaving something behind…and that means pain.
I was talking to someone from another parish this week who said the merging of their parish with another has NOT gone well. This guy was really depressed, because it seems like the people in charge don’t even admit there are problems, so nothing is being done to help people with the change. As a result, “lots” of people have left the parish…and even this guy, one of the most faithful Catholics I know, was considering abandoning his parish. People want to go back to the way things were… back to when things were predictable and fair and they had their own priest –
Any journey toward something requires a journey away from something else.
College students leaving home for the first time will experience this in another couple of weeks… they’re taking a huge step in their journey toward freedom, which requires a journey away from home – away from parents – away from the family, food, laundry, vehicle – whatever things were provided at home. Most will reach the point where they finally appreciate all the things that their parents did for them – and they’ll wish they could go back. That’s not a bad feeling in this case – it’s a normal feeling anytime we take a step toward freedom.
The question is – for all of these situations – in what or in whom will we place our trust going forward? The Hebrews placed their trust in the gods of Egypt… the alcoholic puts his trust in the bottle… the college student put his trust in home life… but the journey away from any of those things is a journey toward something – or toward someONE – in every case, the journey is toward trusting God.
How does God get us to trust Him?
First He needs us to recognize that we need Him. As long as we’re comfortable in our slavery, we take things for granted. Until we recognize our need – we won’t recognize when God provides for us. So, in a way, God HAD to lead them into the desert – away from all that is familiar – so they could FEEL their hunger – He NEEDED them to be ‘hangry’ and only then could He step in and fill that need.
The manna became their main source of food through the next 40 years in the desert. Can you imagine – eating the same thing day after day – surely they took it for granted – surely they got tired of it. They worked up every recipe they could find: “Mannacotti”, “Mananabread”, “Mannawhich”, “Mannaise”, “Mannaburger helper”. (thanks to Jeff Cavins for the joke idea)
Seriously – this manna was a tangible sign that God was providing for them. This was very literally their ‘daily bread’ to remind them that God was the one they should trust. The Manna was the sign…
Remember last week, Jesus led the crowd up a mountain – away from their homes – away from town – in order to teach them. Perhaps the most important lesson he taught that day was that He, as the Son of God, was the one in whom they should place their trust. Remember how He did that? He fed the 5000 with the loaves and fishes. This miracle wouldn’t have happened if they were in town and could have run over to McDonald’s and grabbed a bite to eat…. No, they had to FEEL their hunger before they could recognize and receive the sign.
Here’s the challenge for us: What signs are in your life? Spend a day in the desert – maybe fast for a day and look for the signs – the evidence that God is working in and through you. Recognize Who provides YOUR daily bread?
Jesus IS the bread from heaven who feeds us his own body and blood. Jesus is our ‘daily bread’.