Today’s readings were guaranteed to get my attention: they talk about food. God tells Moses in the old testament and the Christian disciples in the new testament that providing for everyone may be a challenge for us, but it’s a snap for God. He also tells us that His menu is unlimited.
In chapter eleven of the Book of Numbers Moses is despairing (again) about the Israelites who were complaining (again) about food. By now they’d been wandering around in the desert for several years, and the miracle of the manna that fell from heaven every night had grown old. We’re tired of bread, bread, bread, was the refrain. “Would that we had meat for food!” So Moses throws up his hands (again). “I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me,” he said to God.
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples to feed the crowd of over 5,000. But, like Moses, the disciples replied that this was one short order they could not cook on their own. “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here,” they told him, probably looking pretty overwhelmed. Without missing a beat, Jesus blessed the loaves and the fish and fed the whole group, leaving a dozen baskets full of leftovers.
Like most Bible stories, there are several themes we can take away from these two. On the one hand, God proves that what is difficult for you and I is easy for Him. He uses a universal human need (to eat!) to show his omnipotence. But he also shows his compassion; providing for our wants (meat, too, please) as well as our needs. He also demonstrates the power of prayer; in both the old and the new testament versions of this food-for-the-hungry story God waits for the people to come to him before providing what he knew they would need.
I’m sure Bible scholars would tell us there are even more meanings in those stories. Is it a coincidence, for example, that there were 12 baskets left over (12 Tribes of Israel), or that Jesus “said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples,”? (Sounds like the Last Supper and the Eucharist to me.) There’s no single “point” to the story, but there are an almost unlimited number of messages to help “feed” our souls today.
I wonder whether perhaps the next time I’m bored listening to the same old Bible readings, I should start listening a little harder. Are they ever truly, “the same”?