Do we only have short term memories? Do we forget so easily? Do we throw away the baby with the bath water? Do we not have core values which we would never trade away no matter how life treats us?
In the first Reading, (Ex 16:2-4. 12-15), the people of Israel were willing to throw Moses and Aaron ‘under the bus’ because of the difficulties they faced in the desert. The scorching sun and hunger took their toll on them, and they snapped. All the miracles the Lord worked in Egypt to free them, and their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea on dry shod had become something that happened in a very distant past. They complained directly against Moses and Aaron, and indirectly against God by saying, “’Why did we not die at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we were able to sit down to pans of meat and could eat bread to our heart’s content! As it is, you have brought us to this wilderness to starve this whole company to death!’”
Have the Jews suddenly forgotten their enslavement in Egypt, the killing of their sons, and their subjugation to hard labour? An insight we get from the first Reading was that the Egyptians were “compassionate-ruthless” slave masters who ensured that their slaves did not work on empty stomachs.
Freedom comes with responsibilities, rights, and privileges. As an adolescent matures into adulthood, or a new nation transitions from the euphoria of their newly-found freedom to the reality of their daily living, at times they behave like the Israelites who were prepared to go back to enslavement rather than face the challenges which come with maturity and freedom.
For those who believe, there are no accidents in their lives. They see the hand of God in both the good and the bad experiences which they have. The good experiences are the positive revelations, and the bad experiences are the negative revelations. Our prayer is that one should experience more of the positive revelations than the negative ones.
The enslavement of the people of Israel in Egypt was a negative revelation for them and their deliverance from enslavement was a positive revelation. When the Jews were battling with hunger in the desert, the Lord provided them with food through some natural occurrences which had supernatural implications.
Firstly, quails became a source of meat for them. Quails were migratory birds, having been exhausted from flying long distances, they perched on the ground to have a rest, and the Jews were able to capture and cook them. Secondly, there were mushrooms which sprout overnight with the dew. The first Reading narrates as follows, “When the coating of dew lifted, there on the surface of the desert was a thin delicate, powdery, as fine as hoarfrost on the ground.” When the people enquired about what it was, Moses informed them that it “is the bread the Lord gives you to eat.”
Among the Jews, bread is food. The Jews called this substance manna. It “was white like coriander seed and it tasted like wafers made of honey” when eaten raw, (Ex 16:31), and it tasted like cakes made with oil when cooked, (Num 11:7-9). The Israelites saw the hand of God in these events – the quails perching and the mushrooms sprouting. When all hope was lost, the Lord was able to provide for the Israelites in the desert.
In the Gospel, (Jn 6:24-35), Jesus asked the Jews to work not only for transient food, but they should also work for the food that lasts forever. Similarly, Archbishop Peter Comensoli said in his welcome Mass Homily, as the ninth Archbishop of Melbourne, that the people of Melbourne should not only barrack for football teams but should also barrack for the Gospel. Jesus said that working for God warrants that we believe in him, (Jesus), as the one sent by God. He then made the Jews to understand that unlike the manna in the desert which gave physical nourishment to their ancestors, he, (Jesus), is the true manna, (bread), because he descended from heaven to give spiritual nourishment to everyone that desires to have him.
Hence, Jesus is our bread of life, and whoever comes to him will never be hungry and whoever believes in him will never thirst. These assurances from Jesus imply that no matter what comes our way in life he will always be on our side, nourishing us with his Body and Blood – the Eucharist.