Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
St. John 6:24:35
Background: The Fleshpots of Egypt
In the first reading for this Sunday, the Israelites on their journey to the Promised Land wistfully recall their diet in the land of Egypt. Since they were largely located in the delta of the Nile, their diet may have been more varied than that of those living further to the south. Originally the diet depended largely on game, fruits and vegetables; and of course the Nile supplied fish. For the average person the meats were probably rare and were limited to sheep, goats, some cattle, and perhaps a hyena or two. The delta region would have produced wonderful produce: scallions, garlic, melons, celery and lettuces, and various legumes. Papyrus was even eaten along with turnips, and tubers, which were often turned into flour. Of course there was bread, and there was beer – related foodstuffs. It was a rich table that the people of Israel recalled with fondness.
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The 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."
Then the LORD said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not."
Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, `Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'" And 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. The LORD spoke to Moses and said, "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.'"
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When 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."
There is a pattern that is developed in this account that is repeated in the later histories of the people in the Davidic kingdom and in the northern and southern kingdoms that followed. It is a pattern of complaint and dissatisfaction. In this reading it begins with the people recalling the wonderful meals that they had in Egypt (see background). They are not happy with the limited resources of the wilderness, and complain to Moses. This particular remembrance is repeated in the book of Numbers (11:21ff.), and is the first in a series of complaints that follow in the accounts in Exodus. The focus should not be on what God gives to satisfy their need, but rather on the insatiability of the people. In Numbers, the quail are provided because the people think that the manna is not good enough or sufficient. This sets up a relationship of want/provision for both Israel and God that will be answered in a variety of ways during their wandering.
The provision of manna, and its understanding by later interpreters as a kind of bread, led the early Christians and in particular, John, in our Gospel for this morning, to see in the manna a type of the Eucharist itself.
Breaking open Exodus:
- Do you ever complain to God?
- What are you lacking in your life?
- How do your wants compare to those of others?
Psalm 78:23-29 Attendite, popule
So he commanded the clouds above *
and opened the doors of heaven.
He rained down manna upon them to eat *
and gave them grain from heaven.
So mortals ate the bread of angels; *
he provided for them food enough.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens *
and led out the south wind by his might.
He rained down flesh upon them like dust *
and winged birds like the sand of the sea.
He let it fall in the midst of their camp *
and round about their dwellings.
So they ate and were well filled, *
for he gave them what they craved.
The opening verses of this psalm clearly spell out the purpose of the psalm:
Hearken, my people, to my teaching.
Lend your ear to the sayings of my mouth.
Let me open my mouth in a rhapsody,
Let me voice the verses of old.
The author quickly tells us that he is about to recount the history of Israel, and through the remainder of the psalms walks with Israel from the Plagues to the Sea of Reeds, and from thence into the wilderness. The section of the psalm used for today links to the first reading, where Israel complains in hunger and to the Gospel where Jesus makes more comments about the Bread of Life. The verses of the psalm recount the gift of manna and quail, or as the psalmist puts it, “the grain of the heavens,” and “rained flesh upon them like dust.”
Breaking open Psalm 78:
- What might you teach others about your own history with God?
- Has God done great deeds for you?
- What have you done for others?
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it is said,
"When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people."
(When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.
In a not unpredictable manner, Saint Paul sends us from one extreme point of view to another. The first perspective is the Unity of God – which describes as “one body and one spirit”. It is this unity of the God head, and hence the unity of the community gathered as God’s family that is a witness to the world; a witness that turns-over some long-held views. In Greek culture, humility was not a virtue, but rather a sort of “anti-social, and mean spirit”. Paul’s example, however, does not come from the ancients, but rather from the example of Jesus whose humility sets a new standard of behavior and community. The quotation from Psalm 68:19 sets a new cosmography that works to explain Paul’s unity. There are not layers of heaven but rather a Christ who is ascended above all things and yet abides in us.
From this vision of unity, Paul then has us look at the diversity of that same community. The body is a fine example with all of its different parts and features. The skills and calls of those in the community are also lifted up as an example. The implicit question is, “what can you be in this diverse body?” He also calls to our attention the diverse views that might obstruct our view of Jesus – “winds of doctrine”, “people’s trickery”, and “craftiness in deceitful scheming.” A new language is required of all those who are part of the body, new words and phrases formed in love and in truth. It is this, the apostle states, which brings us together in the unity of Christ.
Breaking open Ephesians;
- How do you know that God is one?
- How diverse are your life skills?
- How do you use them in your community and church?
St. John 6:24-35
The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal." Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, `He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."
This reading is a continuation of last Sunday’s Gospel, and the feeding of the thousands. It follows on the miss understanding of the people, only finding in Jesus a source for food and ease of life. The situation mirrors Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” (St. John 4:15) The conversations that Jesus has with the people are an interesting corrective for the readers of John. John lifts up various “signs” that Jesus does as a way of commenting on his mission and purpose. Jesus understands the audience only too well, for they say, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you.” He knows that they are looking for the wrong effect and even the wrong cause. He points to God. It was not Moses who provided the manna, but the Creator God who guided them in the wilderness. They still don’t get it, however, miming the question of the Samaritan woman. To this woman, Jesus says, “I am he”, (i.e. the Messiah, the expected one) and to the crowd he says, “I am the bread of life”. It was not what they had expected. The dialogue continues, but we shall have to wait until the Sunday following to see the outcome.
Breaking open the Gospel:
- How much of modern Christianity is really materialistic?
- How do you guard yourself against such notions?
- What do you really want from your God?
After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday:
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.