Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (Exodus 16) transports me to the wilderness of Sin, between Elim and Sinai, where a band of liberated slaves are finding that freedom does not fill the belly, and they give Moses a belly-full of complaints. They waxed nostalgic over the glory days of slavery, when they sat beside their fleshpots and ate their fill of bread. Upon hearing the complaints, God becomes a galloping gourmet, providing a daily fare that would rival the kitchens of Paris. In fact, the menu does remind me of Babette’s Feast, with the main course of cailles en sarcophage (quails in coffins). Instead of puffed pastry holding the bird, we have honey glazed manna from heaven. Were there any French Jews in the crowd, they would no doubt have been digging around the wilderness in search of truffles to place inside the bird’s cavity, and scoping among the crowd to see if anyone had a stash of cognac hidden away for the reduction glaze. God’s provision was more like a fine French restaurant than a Ponderosa in another way, too – there was just enough to satisfy for the moment, no heaping leftovers. In fact, if people got greedy and tried to fill a doggie bag, the surplus food immediately became a breeding ground for unpalatable parasites.
The real problem this tale of insatiable hunger and greed reveals is a basic lack of trust among the community. They were not satisfied with praying give us this day our daily bread. There was tomorrow to worry about. When it came to what the future might hold, they didn’t trust God; they didn’t trust their leader; they didn’t trust each other. They felt a need to create a trust fund; they wanted to put their bread in the bank to hedge any bets about what tomorrow might bring.
We aren’t too far removed from that wilderness of Sin, complaining incessantly that our freedom is not filling, captive as we are to nostalgic dreams of past glory days. And we worry about tomorrow, gathering as much dough as we can. When I think about storing up surplus bread, the Social Security Trust Fund comes to mind. It is such a misnomer, for the whole system of social security and retirement savings came into being as a concession that we have long lost the trust that traditional communities had for taking care of their elders. Children are no longer expected to feed and shelter their parents in old age; the expectation is now that we will take care of the trust funds that will pay someone else to do this for us. Don’t get me wrong, given the broken trust, there’s no doubt that we need things like Social Security safety nets. Within our framework, it’s a system of social justice to keep the elderly from wasting away in poverty. But our safety net is still a concession, a sign that we really don’t trust God, our communities, or our families to provide the daily bread, much less the daily quail in a coffin, as we journey through the wilderness and age our way toward the promised land. Our anxiety over the future feels like a foul breeding ground for worms that eat away at our sense of security and well-being. Maybe it’s time to go digging for some truffles and break out a bottle of cognac. Just for today.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.