Recently the first reading for Sunday was the story of the Israelites grumbling. The bible records several instances of that occurrence but this was the Exodus 16 reading which relates how they were complaining about the food. Isn’t that so, so human? When we feel safe and not threatened by immediate danger our next, most pressing concern is our stomach! In this scene the exiles were recalling how they missed the “fleshpots” that they had in Egypt. Never mind the small details like backbreaking fifteen hour days, seven days a week, crushing slavery, hard labor and prohibition from practicing their religion! In defere to Moses, however, God provides a solution; quail at night and bread in the morning, but not just any bread.
There are several things about this particular reading that are striking, but one of them just jumps out at me. For whatever reason, God provides the “bread” to them in an unusual fashion. It comes with the morning dew and appears like frost on the ground that has to be collected. When the Israelites see this for the first time their response is; “What is this?” How many times have we done that? God gives a solution; it doesn’t look like we thought it should look so we don’t even see what we have right in front of us. With Moses’ instruction the Israelites gather the odd material. It was a funny color and texture; “Manna was like coriander seed and had the color of resin [tree sap]. …the people would grind it between millstones … then cook it in a pot and make it into loves, which tasted like cakes made with oil.” (Numb. 11:6-12) So, God’s solution is something the chosen people have never experienced before and gives a result that is better than they could have accomplished by themselves. Cakes made with oil were a delicacy and only prepared for feasts and/or celebrations. In the dessert, the Israelites had neither oil, nor ovens to bake things. In a further comment “…Moses told them, ’This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.’ (Ex.16:15) This is where we get the phrase “bread from heaven”.
So where is the message in this for our contemporary world? John Paul II teaches; The Bible, Old Testament and New Testament must be read as a “unity”. They are not to be regarded separately and the above story is a great illustration of that point. As we go to Mass today and take communion one cannot help but see the similarity between the consecrated, thin, white wafer and flakes that appeared to be like a thin layer of frost on the ground. At least, I can’t. While it is true that the appearance and content of the communion wafer is set by Church law, consider how the required appearance and texture echoes what occurred in the Sinai Dessert so long ago. Church laws like this come after much prayer, consideration and as my Charismatic friends say;” The Holy Spirit will have His way.” But, there’s more. The Bread from Heaven in the dessert had hidden within it all the Israelites needed to sustain life in unbelievably harsh conditions. It was a gift directly from God that they did not expect. The life sustaining qualities of the Manna could not be seen or understood on first glance. The community needed someone to explain that this material would keep them alive. Isn’t this a complete description of Eucharist? The story of the Manna in the dessert echoes and “prefigures” the Church today, long before it ever existed. This is God’s way of previewing and confirming events. Old and new echo each other and fit together in that unity that John Paul II talked about. The study of this phenomenon in scripture is called Typology.
Last we need to look at the comment that this story and echo of the current Church have for us as we just try to survive our daily existence. The Israelites couldn’t figure it out. “What is this?” was their initial reaction. We have many people today who make the same comment on Eucharist. We have “scoffers” about the True Presence both in and out of the Church. “What is this?” is their comment when we tell them that indeed this consecrated host is God himself. We meet God at every Mass. We consume God at every Mass. The wafer we take in appears to be inconsequential and yet it is the gift that Jesus himself left us to sustain and give us life in ways that we don’t even understand. If your belief wavers about Eucharist or you know others who are not sure, tell them the story of the Israelites. Scott Hahn, contemporary apologist, comments that if Catholics truly understood what they were receiving at Mass that it would be impossible to keep people away. Don’t be your own victim who bypasses the ultimate blessing and gift from God which is right in front of their eyes. Don’t fall into the trap of missing something astounding just because it doesn’t look like you thought it should! That would be too sad for words!
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Learn more about Kathryn and her views of contemporary spirituality at: www.atravelersview.org.
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