Sunday, August 02, 2009

Reading for Monday, 18th Week in Ordinary Time

From: Numbers 11:4b-15

Craving for Egyptian Food

[4b] And the people of Israel also wept again, and said, "0 that we had meat to eat! [5] We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; [6] but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at."

[7] Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. [8] The people went about and gathered it, and ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, and boiled it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cake baked with oil. [9] When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it.

Moses' Prayer
[10] Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families every man at the door of his tent; and the anger of the LORD blazed hotly, and Moses was displeased. [11] Moses said to the LORD, "Why hast thou dealt ill with thy servant? And why have I not found favor in thy sight, that thou dost lay the burden of aIl this people upon me? [12] Did I conceive all this people? Did I bring them forth, that thou shouldst say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries the sucking child, to the land which thou didst swear to give their fathers?' [13] Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, 'Give us meat, that we may eat.' [14] I am not able to carry all this people alone, the burden is too heavy for me. [15] If thou wilt deal thus will me, kill me at once, if I find favor in thy sight, that I may not see my wretchedness."
11:7-9. The people dream of the sort of food they had in Egypt. The manna was a sign of the providence of God, who supplied his people with food in the arid desert. Therefore, their lack of appreciation for the manna, and on top of that their protest against God, show their blindness, their inability to appreciate the gifts God is giving them. Regarding the manna, cf. the note on Exodus 16:1-36.

[The note on Exodus 16:1-36 states:

16:1-36. The prodigy of the manna and the quails was a very important sign of God's special providence towards his people while they were in the desert. It is recounted here and in Numbers 11, but in both accounts facts are interwoven with interpretation of same and with things to do with worship and ethics.

Some scholars have argued that the manna is the same thing as a sweet secretion that comes from the tamarisk ("tamarix mannifera") when punctured by a particular insect commonly found in the mountains of Sinai. The drops of this resin solidify in the coldness of the night and some fall to the ground. They have to be gathered up early in the morning because they deteriorate at twenty-four degrees temperature (almost eighty degrees Celsius). Even today desert Arabs collect them and use them for sucking and as a sweetener in confectionery.

As we know, quails cross the Sinai peninsula on their migrations back and forth between Africa and Europe or Asia. In May or June, when they return from Africa they usually rest in Sinai, exhausted after a long sea crossing; they can be easily trapped at this point.

Although these phenomenon can show where the manna and the quail come from, the important thing is that the Israelites saw them as wonders worked by God. The sacred writer stops to describe the impact the manna had on the sons of Israel. They are puzzled by it, as can be seen from their remarks when it comes for the first time: "What is it?" they ask, which in Hebrew sounds like "man hu", that is, manna (v. 15), which is how the Greek translation puts it. Indeed, the need to collect it every day gave rise to complaints about some people being greedy (v. 20) and who did not understand the scope of God's gift (v. 15). And just as manna is a divine gift to meet a basic human need (nourishment), so too the divine precepts, specifically that of the sabbath, are a free gift from the Lord (v. 28). So, obedience is not a heavy burden but the exercise of a capacity to receive the good things that God gives to those who obey him.

The prodigy of the manna will resound right through the Bible: in the "Deuteronomic" tradition it is a test that God gives his people to show them that "man does not live by bread alone, but [...] by everything that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord" (Deut 8:3). The psalmist discovers that manna is "the bread of the strong" ("of angels", says the Vulgate and the RSV), which God sent in abundance (Ps 78:23ff; cf. Ps 105:40). The book of Wisdom spells out the features of this bread from heaven "ready to eat, providing every pleasure and suited to every taste" (Wis 16:20-29). And the New Testament reveals the full depth of this "spiritual" food (1 Cor 10:3), for, as the "Catechism" teaches, "manna in the desert prefigured the Eucharist, 'the true bread from heaven' (Jn 6:32)" ("Catechism of the Catholic Church", 1094).]

11:10-15. Despite the tone of complaint, in Moses' words we can glimpse God's relationship to his people: he is their father, he made them into a people. And the passage also shows the heavy responsibility he put on Moses' shoulders--to the point that he feels unable to carry it any longer.

The imagery used here to describe God's concern for his people will later be used by St Paul when he speaks of his concern for all the Christian communities which grew from his preaching and which he has to guide towards Christ (cf. I Thess 2: 7-11).
Source: "The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries". Biblical text taken from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries made by members of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Navarre, Spain. Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland. Reprinted with permission from Four Courts Press and Scepter Publishers, the U.S. publisher.

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