‘The whole community of the sons of Israel began to complain against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness and said to them: ‘Why did we not die at the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt. As it is, you have brought us to this wilderness to starve this whole company to death!”
While it is unlikely that we shall ever encounter the dramatic plight of a people starving in the wilderness, it
is highly likely that we bear within ourselves the attitudes of complaint and dissatisfaction that manifested themselves so readily among the people.
It seems amazing that a people so recently delivered from the slavery of Egypt should allow their hunger to displace God’s graciousness,
to surrender their hearts to a grudging grievance that displaced everything else.
The story of this murmuring in the wilderness was remembered as a warning to subsequent generations. Like the Israelites of old we all too easily take for granted the many signs of God’s grace.
It is from the Father that we have received the gift of life itself, and from Christ and his Church the redemption that frees us from sin. We who have so much can so easily surrender our lives to the dissatisfactions and disappointments that have the power to possess our hearts.
In the wilderness Moses was instructed to demonstrate the graciousness of God, to turn the hunger of a people from self-destruction to a renewed awareness of God. “Now I will rain down bread for you from the heavens. Each day the people will go out and gather the day’s portion; I propose to test them in this way to see whether they will follow my law or not.”
God had indeed drawn his people to himself in their hour of need, but in limiting their daily collection of Manna to no more than sufficed for the day he had placed strict limits on the demands of our acquisitive nature. Hunger can lead us
to God, but it should never become the ruling passion of our lives.
The words of Jesus, following on immediately from the feeding of the multitude, reinforced the lesson taught through Moses long ago. In the Book of Deuteronomy Moses had taught that man does not live on bread alone, but on every Word proceeding from the mouth
of the Lord.
In a very different context, Jesus now taught the crowds that he had come to offer them something more than food for the stomach. “Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you.”
Our consumer society is the embodiment of what Jesus described as the food that cannot last. We are bombarded with goods and services that promise a happiness that they can never achieve. How easily possession turns to disappointment simply because there is something better, something more attractive.
Not surprisingly, the crowds immediately demanded of Jesus how they might work for this food that would never fail to satisfy. The response of Jesus was direct: that they must first entrust themselves to him as the one sent by the Father, that they entrust their conflicting hungers to him alone as the true Bread come down from the Father.
“I am the bread of life, he who comes to me will never be hungry, he who believes in me will never thirst.”