Week of Proper 11: Wednesday, Year 1   15 comments

Above:  Sinai Desert

Image in the Public Domain


JULY 26, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


Exodus 16:1-5, 9-15, 19, 20 (An American Translation):

Setting out from Elim, the whole Israelite community came to the desert of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after their departure from the land of Egypt.

Then the whole Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the desert.

O that we would have died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of flesh and had plenty of food to eat,” the Israelites said to them; “for you you have brought us into this desert, to make this whole crowd die of famine.

Then the LORD said to Moses,

I am going to rain food out of the sky for you, but the people are to go out and gather only a day’s ration each day, in order that I may test them to see whether they will follow my instructions or not.  On every sixth day, however, when they measure what they bring home, it shall be twice as much as what they gather from day to day.

Then Moses said to Aaron,

Say to the whole Israelite community, “Present yourselves before the LORD; for he has heard your grumbling.”

When Aaron said this to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, whereupon the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

Then the LORD said to Moses,

I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall have flesh to eat, and in the morning plenty of bread to satisfy you; and thus shall you know that I am the LORD your God.”

So it came about at evening that quails came up and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a fall of dew around the camp; when the fall of dew evaporated, there, on the surface of the desert, there was a fine scaly substance, as fine as hoar-frost on the ground!  When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another,

What is it?

–for they did not know what it was.

Then Moses said to them,

That is the bread which the LORD is giving you to eat….

Then Moses said to them,

No one is to leave any of them over until morning.

But they did not obey Moses; certain ones left some it over until morning, as it bred maggots and became foul.  So Moses became angry with them.

Psalm 78:18-29 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

18 They tested God in their hearts,

demanding food for their craving.

19 They railed against God and said,

“Can God set a table in the wilderness?”

20 True, he struck the rock, the waters gushed out, and the gullies overflowed;

but is he able to give bread

or to provide meat for his people?”

21 When the LORD heard this, he was full of wrath;

a fire was kindled against Jacob,

and his anger mounted against Israel;

22 For they had no faith in God,

nor did they put their trust in his saving power.

23 So he commanded the clouds above

and opened the doors of heaven.

24 He rained down manna upon them to eat

and gave them grain from heaven.

25 So mortals ate the bread of angels;

he provided for them food enough.

26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens

and led out the south wind by his might.

27 He rained down flesh upon them like dust

and winged birds like the sand of the sea.

28 He let it fall in the midst of their camp

and round about their dwellings.

29 So they ate and were well filled,

for he gave them what they craved.

Matthew 13:1-9 (An American Translation):

That same day Jesus went out of his house and was sitting on the seashore.  And such great crowds gathered about him that he got into a boat and sat down in it, while all the people stood on the shore.  And he told them many things in figures, and said to them,

A sower went to sow, and as he was sowing, some of the seed fell by the path and the birds came and ate it up, and some fell on rocky ground where there was not much soil and it sprang up at once, because the soil was not deep, but when the sun came up it was scorched and withered up, because it had no root.  And some of it fell among the thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it out.  And some fell on good soil, and yielded some a hundred, some sixty, and some thirty-fold.  Let him who has ears listen!


The Collect:

Almighty God, the fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: Have compassion on our weakness, and mercifully give us those things which for our unworthiness we dare not, and for our blindness we cannot ask; through the worthiness of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


A desert can be a forbidding place.  Saints have gone into them to test their spiritual mettle and their willingness to rely on God.  Some of the more famous people of this sort are John the Baptist, Antony of Egypt, John Climacus, and, of course, Jesus of Nazareth.

Realization and acceptance of one’s reliance on God, a virtue, can terrify us.  This is especially true if one’s culture places great value on self-reliance, thereby stigmatizing dependency.  Yet we are all God’s dependents, and self-reliance is an illusion.

With all this mind, let us consider the reading from Exodus.

About a month has passed since the Exodus.  The great Israelite throng is in the desert, and the period of praising God for deliverance from slavery has ended.  Walter Brueggemann, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, provides an excellent analysis.  The plenteous, piled-up food in Egypt was the bread of coercion distributed according to the will of the Pharaoh.  Yet the manna and quail in the desert come from God, and the distribution is equitable.  There is just one caveat:  No hoarding is allowed.

This is God’s economy:  There is enough for everyone to have enough, but not an excessive amount.  Really, how much does one person need?  This lesson contradicts much of Western society and politics, not to mention the basest varieties of capitalism.  Human economies experience booms and busts, and rely on inequality in distribution of food and other necessities.  This is sinful.  So I prefer God’s economy.

So, due to God’s mercy, a forbidding wilderness becomes a place where there is enough.  People will neither starve nor grow fat on what is available.  This is not so bad, is it?

I love puns.  So imagine my delight in reading that the Hebrew text for “What is it?” is identical to that for “It is manna.”  Professor Richard Elliott Friedman, in his Commentary on the Torah, likens this exchange in Exodus 16:15 to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine.  The Bible contains much humor in the original languages and certain scenarios; may we not be so serious-minded that we cannot recognize this fact and enjoy the Scriptures in this way.

What was manna?  (Be prepared for a gross-out moment.)  It was almost certainly honey dew, the excretions of scale insects and plant lice who had injested sap of tamarisk trees then left “souvenirs” onto branches.  The “souvenirs” then crystalized and fell to the ground.  Bedouins use this as a sweetener, according to a note from The Jewish Study Bible.

There is a certain squeamishness about eating certain food, especially if one knows what it is.  On the other hand, ignorance is culinary bliss.  The Israelites had not seen manna before, so they did not know that it was solidified and crystalized insect excretions.  Yet it was enough, and it was good for the people.

The Israelites had begun to grumble really early, even immediately before the Exodus itself.  Then they continued.  They sound like the seed that fell among thorns in the Parable of the Sower; concerns choked off faith.  This might be my story or your tale, too.  May it not be so.  Rather, may as many people as possible be like the seed in fertile soil.



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