God's Abundant Table, Part 1: Bread Everywhere

Exodus 16:1-5            The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. 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. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.”

Luke 5:27-32  After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth; and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up, left everything, and followed him. Then Levi gave a great banquet for him in his house; and there was a large crowd of tax collectors and others sitting at the table with them. The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

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After we read the passage from Exodus at the roundtable this week, one person said, “That doesn’t seem like the end of the story.  It feels like we stopped in the middle.”  And that’s true – it is not the end of the story, it actually goes on much longer.  The story of how God feeds us runs all through the scriptures from beginning to end.

We started this week close to the beginning.  The people of Israel are not too far into their wilderness journey by this time, and they have run into a problem. A problem they have, apparently, not encountered before – the problem of hunger.  They have been out there long enough to complain about other things, but this is the first time they have complained about hunger.  And I’m glad they had the opportunity to do that, because complaining is something they do well – with style. 

Earlier in their journey, they complained because they were afraid.  Pharaoh and his army were still pursuing them, with horses and chariots.  If you saw the movie “The Ten Commandments,” then you have a powerful visual image in your mind of what that was like.  Surely it was frightening.  But even in fear the Israelites had the gift of sarcasm.  They looked at the army coming at them, and they turned to Moses and said:  “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness?” Nice, don’t you think?

And here they are again, pining for the good old days of slavery in Egypt.  Rolling their eyes, they say, “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.”

And the Lord said, “You’re welcome.  Don’t mention it.”

Not really, of course.  Here the Lord did not match sarcasm with sarcasm.  The Lord would eventually lose his temper with the people of Israel, but not yet.  Right now God has some sympathy for them, because after all, these people have never known any life except slavery.  And freedom can probably seem very scary to someone who has never tasted it.  So, instead of snapping at the people for their ungrateful whining, like a tired, exasperated mother, God just gives them what they need: food.

This is the wonderful story of how God rained bread from heaven for Israel, every day for as long as they needed it.  The people would step outside their tents each morning, hungry from their nighttime fast, and find bread everywhere.  And it was good. 

God provided for the people what they needed, and the people had to learn to trust God to give them what they needed.  Each day they were instructed to gather up only as much as they needed for the day – their daily bread.  There was no value in gathering more, hoarding it, because by the next day it would be rotten and crawling with maggots.  Besides, tomorrow there would be more, fresh bread from heaven.  In this was the lesson of trust.  Each day God would provide what they needed for that day. 

Except, of course, on the Sabbath day, when God rests.  So for this one day, God made an exception to the rule and instructed them to gather up extra manna on the day before. On this one day the manna would stay fresh a little longer.  This taught them another lesson – the lesson of preparing, being ready.  They use what God provides to take care of their own needs.

Now just in case you’re wondering right now: what is the statistical likelihood of this stuff falling every day except the seventh day, in a continuous cycle?  I ask you, please, not to worry about that.  The point of the story is just that people who put their trust in God will be fed by the hand of God.  The people who put their trust in God, in fact, will see God’s blessings everywhere.  God’s bread is everywhere.

Stories about people being fed are all over the Bible.  I couldn’t begin to try to tell you about all of them.  It is clear from the scriptures that feeding hungry people is one of the things God does best.  Bread is life. 

But we also know that we need much more than bread to live.  We need fellowship.  We need love.  We need purpose to our lives.  And God provides for us in these ways, as well.

The story in Luke where Jesus sits at table with a whole convention of tax collectors begins to tell that story. 

He sees Levi, the tax collector at his work, and simply says to him, “Follow me.”  Levi rises from his table and walks away from it to follow Jesus.  He asks no questions, he makes no excuses.  He follows Jesus and never looks back.

Levi, who would become the disciple Matthew, found something that day when Jesus called to him – a different kind of bread.  He found the bread that would fill the hunger in him that nothing else could fill.  He found the fellowship of the Lord. And he found purpose for his life.

Of course, having found something so good, he wanted to share it with his friends, all tax collectors, apparently.  Who else would a tax collector socialize with?  Right? Outcasts only have other outcasts.  So the outcasts had a party together at Levi’s house.

But now they had a new friend – Jesus.  And as he wined and dined with the fellowship of tax collectors, the local Pharisees looked on with horror, because in their eyes Jesus was proving just how inept he was as a leader, a teacher. Sitting at table with sinners, defiling himself with their filth. 

Tax collectors may not seem quite so awful to us, but it was the way they used people that made them so contemptible.  Levi and the other tax collectors were despised because they used the people of Israel for their own personal gain.  To the Jewish tax collectors, their fellow Jews were useful to them only so far as they could squeeze something out of them.  They weren’t interested in person-to-person interactions – they were interested in transactions.

It is a very human weakness we share with the Tax Collectors, the Pharisees, the Egyptians, and all different people from all times and places – the desire for our interactions to be transactions, where there is something in it for us.

Yet Jesus dined with all of them – tax collectors, Samaritans, sinners – he shared bread with them anyway.  He didn’t hang out with Levi because he was hoping for a tax break.  He called out Levi because Levi was a hungry man.  And in this he showed all of Israel a different way – God’s way.

God does not withhold the bread of life from any of God’s children – no matter who they are.

All who are hungry, if they come to him, shall be fed.  God will give them what they need.  If they have eyes to see, and ears to hear, and hearts to know, they will find that bread is everywhere.

God gives us what we need.  This we learn from the stories of scripture and from the stories of our very lives.  And just as we have been fed, God calls us to feed others in his name.  Simply because they need it.

To give people what they need simply because they need it.  Not because they are somehow useful to us. 

To welcome people into the fellowship we share simply because they need it.  Not because they are somehow useful to us. 

The world may have taught us to give only to the deserving, to love only those who love us first, but God calls us to a different way of living: to bless because we have been blessed by God, to welcome because we have been welcomed by God, to love because we have been loved by God.

May you open the eyes of your heart and see that God’s bread is everywhere, and may you share it with gladness.

Thanks be to God. 

 

 

Verses

“From the manna in the desert to the breaking of the bread, from the hunger of the ages to our hunger to be fed, you are our hope, loving God."
Shirley Erena Murray, from In Every Corner Sing.
 
Scriptures to Focus:
Exodus 17:1-7  
 
A Prayer of Reflection
Dear God, thank you for this day. Guide my mind in your way and help me to do your will.
All praise, honor, and glory is yours. Amen.
 
 
 

Shirley Erena Murray