The first reading, for Mass yesterday (Monday) of the 18th week is taken from the Book of Numbers. It features the Israelites grumbling about the manna in the wilderness in these words:
While it is possible for us to marvel at their insolence and ingratitude, the picture here presented depicts the human condition, and very common human tendencies. It is not unique to a people once in the desert. Their complaints, are too easily our own complaints and struggles.
Let’s look at a number of the issues raised, and see how it is possible for many of us today to struggle in the same way.
I. They prefer the abundance of food and creature comforts along with slavery in Egypt, to the freedom of the children of God and the chance to journey to the promised land. And this too easily is our struggle. Jesus points to the cross, but we prefer the pillow. Heaven is a nice thought, but it is future, and the journey is long.
Too easily we prefer our version of “melons and leeks.” Perhaps it is possessions, or power, or popularity. Never mind that the price of them is a kind of bondage to the world and its demands. For when the world grants its blessings, we become enslaved by the fact that we have too much to lose. Hence we will compromise our freedom, which Christ died to purchase for us, and enter into a kind of bondage of sin. We will buy into lies or commit any number of sins, perhaps we will suppress the truth, all in an attempt to stay popular and well-connected. Why? Because we have become desperate for the world’s blessings and we will make increasing compromises that harm our integrity or hurt other people just to get blessings we can’t live without.
We are in bondage to Egypt, enslaved to Pharaoh. We prefer it to the freedom of the desert, with its difficult journey to a Promised Land (Heaven) we have not yet fully seen. But the pleasures of the world, it’s melons and leeks are currently displayed and available for immediate enjoyment.
And besides, we can recast the slavery of the world call it by different names such as: being “relevant,” being “modern,” being “tolerant” and “compassionate.” Yes, even as we descend into deeper darkness and bondage to sin and our passions, we will call it “enlightenment” and “choice” and “freedom.”.
And so the cry still goes up: “Give us melons, give us leeks, give us cucumbers and fleshpots! Away with the desert, away with the cross, away with the Promised Land, if it exists at all. It is too far off, and too hard to get to. Melons and Leeks please. Give us meat, we are tired of Manna!”
II. There is the boredom with the manna. While it’s exact composition is mysterious to us, it would seem that Manna could be collected, kneeded like dough and baked like bread. But as such, it was a fairly plain substance. It seems It was meant more to sustain than to entertain.
The people remembered their melons, leeks, and the fleshpots of Egypt, and were bored with this plain manna. Never mind that it was miraculously provided every day by God, in just the right quantity. Even miracles can come to seem boring after a while to our petulantly demanding desires. The Lord may show us miracles today, and too easily do we demand even more tomorrow.
We are also somewhat like little children who prefer Twinkies and Cupcakes to vegetables and other more wholesome foods.
Indeed the boredom, even repulsion of the Israelites against the miracle food from heaven does not sound so different from many Catholics who say, “Mass is boring.”
While it is certainly true that we can work to ensure that the Liturgy reflects the glory it offers, it also remains true that God has a fairly stable and consistent diet for us. He exhorts us to stay faithful to the “manna,” to the wholesome food of prayer, Scripture, the Sacraments, and stable faithful fellowship in union with the Church.
And in our fickle spirits, many run after the latest current fads and movements. Many Catholics say, “Why can’t we be more like the mega-churches with all the latest, including the Starbucks Coffee Café, a rock-star-like Pastor with a seeker sensitive, toned down preaching with many promises and few demands, contemporary music and all that jazz?!”
But as an old spiritual says regarding this type of person, “Some go to church for to sing and shout, before six months they’s all turned out!” And thus some will leave the Catholic Church and other traditional forms which feature the more routine but stable and steady manner for the hip and the latest, the melons and leeks. But frequently they find that within six months they’re bored again.
While the Church is always in need of reform, there is a lot to be said for the slow and steady pace of the Church, as she journeys through the desert, relying on the less glamorous but more stable and sensible food: the manna of the Eucharist, the word of God, the Sacred Liturgy, prayer, and fellowship not just with the latest and greatest, but with stable and tested things.
III. Who Feeds You? Beyond these liturgical preferences of many for melons and leeks over Manna, there is also a manifest preference for the food of this world. There is a tragic tendency for many Catholics, even regular church-goers, to get most of their food not from the Lord, not from Scripture, not from the Church, but from the Egypt of this world.
Most eat regularly at the banquet table of popular entertainment, secular news media, secular talk radio, etc. And they eat this food quite uncritically! The manna is complained about, but the meons and leeks are praised without qualification.
And while it is true the Christian cannot wholly avoid any contact with the world, or avoid all its food, when do the melons and leeks ever come in for criticism? When does a Christian finally look and say to themselves and others “Look, that is not the mind of God!” When do they ever conclude that this food is inferior or even poisonous to what God says and offers? When does a parent finally walk into the living room, turn off the TV and teach their children that “What you have just seen and heard is not the mind of God” ?
Tragically, this is rare and the food of this world is eaten in an abundance far surpassing the food of God. The melons and leeks of the world are praised, and the manna of God is put on trial, because it’s not like the food of the world.
This of course, is backwards for a Christian. The world should be on trial based on the Word of God. But as it is, even for most Catholics, the Word of God and the teachings of the Church are on trial by the standards of the world.
So the question is, who is it that feeds you? Is the world, or the Lord? What proportion of your food comes from the Lord, and what from the world? Honestly? What is more influential in your daily life and your thinking, the world, or the Lord? Honestly? Who is really feeding you, informing you, influencing you? Is it the melons and leeks of the Egypt of this world? Or is it the faithful, stable, even miraculous manna of the Lord and his Church?
IV. And finally, there comes this question, “Whom are you feeding?” This question is drawn more from the Gospel of Monday’s Mass. Jesus’ disciples ask the Lord to dismiss the crowds so that they could go and get food for themselves. But Jesus said to them, and us, “Give them something to eat yourselves.
So, who are you feeding, and with what? The Lord gave the apostles food, and they gave it to the people. Is the Lord giving you food? And are you feeding others with it?
People are going to need food, from day-to-day. Will they get it from the melons and leeks of this world? Or will they get the manna from us? You and I must decide that.
There are many legitimate complaints today about silent pulpits. And where there should be a setting forth the manna of God’s Word plainly, too often, there is silence or sermons filled with abstractions and generalities. This is rightly deplored.
However, silent pulpits are not the only problem, so are silent dining room tables where parents, have not studied the Word of God, and handed it on to their children.
Deplorable too is the public square, and the public media where the melons and leeks of this world are in abundance, and the manna of God is hard-to-find. Theoretically, this has been a largely Christian country for the last 200+ years. So the darkness and ignorance of these times has expanded on our watch.
It is easy to blame others, but there are too many of us who are prefer the melons and leeks of this world, and have failed to supply the manna, given by the Lord to this now deeply confused world.
Here then, are some probing questions for all of us drawn from an ancient wilderness. God’s people who tired of the manna harm themselves and others too.
Have mercy on us, Lord our God. Give us a deep desire for the manna you offer. And having received it in abundance, help us to share it as well!