Mrs. Suzette Cayless, AHC
RCL – Proper 20 A – Sunday 21 September 2008
“The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.” The Israelites were on their way to the promised land. Moses had led them out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. A few verses earlier than today’s reading we find the Israelites complaining when they had no water to drink in Marah. They were then brought to an oasis and camped and refreshed themselves with food and drink. They moved on again and found themselves once more in a difficult place. “Would that we had died ... in the land of Egypt.”
They bewailed the fact that at least in Egypt they had food. Moses points out that their complaining is really against God. He assures them that God has not forgotten them and will provide what they need and soon enough quails appear in the camp and in the morning manna. The word “complaining” is translated as “murmuring” in other versions of the Bible. I like that word - it seems to signify an underlying insidious mutter that infects everyone, and perhaps results in the response to the unknown manna: “What is it?”
In today’s gospel we also have complainers! At the end of a day’s work the laborers are given their wages. Although some have worked the whole day and others for only one hour, each is given the same money. The first hired “grumbled against the landowner,” thinking that they should have received more. The landowner reminds them that he can do what he likes with his money and that he has paid them what they agreed to. Each person requires money to provide food for his family and the landowner gives what is needed.
God is a God of the unexpected. We cannot control God’s actions but should rather look for God to surprise us - as He surprised the Israelites with manna and the one hour laborers with a day’s wages.
In his Rule, Benedict enjoins his monks in chapter 4: “Do not grumble or speak ill of others.” Then in chapters 40 and 41 - concerned with meals and the daily rations of wine - he says:
“... where local circumstances dictate an amount of wine much less than what is stipulated above, or even none at all, those who live there should bless God and not grumble. Above all else we admonish them to refrain from grumbling” and “... (the abbot) should so regulate and arrange all matters that souls may be saved and the brothers may go about their activities without justifiable grumbling.”
Food and drink are basic necessities for human living and they are central to our day to day activities. As we pray together in the offices and Eucharist we say, again and again: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Not an abundance of good things but daily what we need. I am reminded of growing up in Coventry, UK during WWII when often my mother was anxious as to what she could prepare for dinner. It wasn’t that we had no money - just that there was little food to be bought. But day by day a meal was always served. There is an interesting version of the Lord’s Prayer in Anglo-Saxon Spirituality translated by Robert Boenig and I will read it to you:
Holy Father, you who dwell in Heaven,That phrase “our continued loaf” catches my imagination. It captures the sense of God’s oversight, with its provision of food from God’s hand. Bread and wine are at the heart of the Eucharist - we do not easily forget such items and Jesus identifies them in a special way for us as we share worship together. The broken bread and shared cup are indeed reminders of God’s provision for our needs.
honored be the joy of your glory. May your name be hallowed
in your works by the sons of the people. You are the savior of men.
May your spacious kingdom come and your will firm in counsel
be raised under the roof of Heaven and also on the wide earth.
Give us for this day just dignity, our continued loaf,
comforter of men, steadfast Savior.
Do not let us be tossed too much in temptation,
but, Ruler of the people, give us good deliverance
from every evil for ever and ever.
The Israelites in the wilderness did not just want food - they wanted good things and desired “the fleshpots” they had enjoyed in Egypt. The all day laborers did not just want what they had agreed on, they wanted more. There is an element of greed in all of us that we have to reckon with in terms of our spiritual as well as physical lives. Listen to this story by Arnold Lobel. It is called “Cookies.”
Toad baked some cookies. “These cookies smell very good,” said Toad. He ate one. “And they taste even better,” he said. Toad ran to Frog’s house. “Frog, Frog,” cried Toad, “taste these cookies that I have made.” Frog ate one of the cookies. “These are the best cookies I have ever eaten!” said Frog. Frog and Toad ate many cookies, one after another. “You know, Toad,” said Frog, with his mouth full, “I think we should stop eating. We will soon be sick.” “You are right,” said Toad. “Let us eat one last cookie, and then we will stop.” Frog and Toad ate one last cookie. There were many cookies left in the bowl. “Frog,” said Toad, “let us eat one very last cookie, and then we will stop.” Frog and Toad ate one very last cookie. “We must stop eating!” cried Toad as he ate another. “Yes,” said Frog. reaching for a cookie, “we need will power.” “What is will power?” asked Toad. “Will power is trying hard not to do something that you really want to do,” said Frog. “You mean like trying not to eat all of these cookies?” asked Toad. “Right,” said Frog. Frog put the cookies in a box. “There,” he said. “Now we will not eat any more cookies.” “But we can open the box,” said Toad. “That is true,” said Frog. Frog tied some string around the box. “There,” he said. “Now we will not eat any more cookies.” “But we can cut the string and open the box,” said Toad. “That is true,” said Frog. Frog got a ladder. He put the box up on a high shelf. “There,” said Frog. “Now we will not eat any more cookies.” “But we can climb the ladder and take the box down from the shelf and cut the string and open the box,” said Toad. “That is true,” said Frog. Frog climbed the ladder and took the box down from the shelf. He cut the string and opened the box. Frog took the box outside. He shouted in a loud voice, “HEY BIRDS, HERE ARE COOKIES!” Birds came from everywhere. They picked up all the cookies in their beaks and flew away. “Now we have no more cookies to eat,” said Toad sadly, “Not even one.” “Yes,” said Frog, “but we have lots and lots of will power.” “You may keep it all, Frog,” said Toad. “I am going home now to bake a cake.”
From Frog and Toad Together by Arnold Lobel.
Will power is important - but it has to be directed correctly. Disciplines for daily living have to be learned. Our choices for day to day attitudes and relationships are not to be based merely on what we want and how we feel. St. Paul gives us the clue. In the Epistle he encourages his friends to “live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.” This requires that we live out a concern for each other; that we look to the provision of food and drink for all around us; that we pray daily for our own needs and the needs of the community; that we set aside greed, envy, and all that is unworthy of Christ; and that we never forget to give thanks to God for all the blessings he bestows on us day by day.
Let us pray, using words from Psalm 105, verses 1-4:
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;Amen.
make known his deeds among the peoples.
Sing to him, sing praises to him,
and speak of all his marvelous works.
Glory in his holy Name;
let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice.
Search for the lord and his strength;
continually seek his face.