After the Israelites left Egypt and crossed the Red Sea, they immediately began to complain against Moses and Aaron. "You have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger," they said (Exodus 16:3).
God, however, was merciful to his people. Every evening, he sent them quail to eat and every morning, manna.
This manna was a strange, bread-like substance. No matter how much or how little of it they gathered, each person always ended up with exactly one "omer" of manna -- enough for the day. And if they tried to store the manna, it bred worms and became foul.
Yet on the sixth day of each week, there would always be enough manna to carry them through the Sabbath.
When Jesus taught his disciples to say this petition, "Give us this day our daily bread," it would immediately recall for them this story of their ancestors in the desert.
The story of the manna is a powerful one. It contains within it two injunctions: rely on the Lord for even life's basic necessities and do not hoard those necessities.
Here were these people in the desert who had left a life of slavery behind. It had been a life where their basic needs were ensured by the economic system. Now, they were in the desert. Their lives had been stripped of everything non-essential. It was blistering hot in the day and freezing cold at night. The people were afraid.
Their salvation could only come by relying on God. They could only survive if they depended on the unseen, unknowable, mysterious Being who had sent plagues on the Egyptians and parted the Red Sea. They could rejoice in what God had done. But how could they know he would continue to care for them in this hostile environment? They could only trust.
God gave them the desert to drive the mediocrity, the lukewarmness, out of their lives. God wanted to strip them of false attachments so that they would live only for him. But he continued to provide. He provided daily bread.
How would we fare if our lives were as stripped down to the essentials as happened to the Israelites in the desert? Imagine yourself without any possessions, without any modern conveniences, living in the Canadian winter. Imagine yourself stripped of good health and even of your family and friends.
From a worldly point of view, this would be the purest hardship. It would hold the prospect of unrelenting toil with no prospect of material advancement. What would it be for you? Would you fall into anger or self-pity? Or could you, like Job, praise God saying, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21)?
Many of us are not satisfied with daily bread. We must have two cars, a skidoo, microwave, Nintendo, 2,000 square feet of livable space and three hours a day of TV.
When the Catechism of the Catholic Church talks about this petition in the Lord's Prayer, it speaks of both physical and spiritual hunger.
We cannot pray this petition with awareness without recalling what the Catechism calls "the drama of hunger in the world" (no. 2831). This is hunger which has been created by the same human desire which led some of the Israelites to want to store up manna for the future. Today, we have highly sophisticated forms of hoarding which have created global structures of injustice impoverishing billions of people. Pope John Paul has called on the world to celebrate the year 2000 by forgiving loans which have condemned Third World nations to perpetual poverty.
The Catechism states baldly, "There are no just structures without people who want to be just" (no. 2832). Our lack of justice today is still connected to a lack of trust in God's Providence. This lack of trust has given us structures of domination and a distorted food distribution system which makes obesity a problem in North America and malnutrition a scourge for most of the rest of the world.
And so the material hunger of the world's poor is tied to the spiritual poverty of the wealthy. The solution lies in our living as though our security for the future depends not on the number of goods we can store up for ourselves, but rather on the Bread of Life -- the spiritual food which is the only thing which lasts. It is this bread which is the true "medicine of immortality." Can we have enough trust in God to believe that and to act on that belief?
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
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