When you were a kid, could you have imagined your mother saying, “come on over here and sit – I heard you whining”? My grandfather’s favorite line was, “we’re going to have words, and you’re not going to get to use any of yours.”
But, really! “Come on over here and sit – I heard you whining.” That’s what Moses is telling his unruly crew: “God’s heard you complaining, now he wants to have some words with you.” Do you remember what they were complaining about, wandering around out there in the desert? The food. Always the food. ‘We want to go back to Egypt where there were watermelons and leeks and good rich stew’ – Egyptian posole, or maybe birria. Well, God promises to give them meat again, and they get quails in the evening. In another version of this story God tells them they’re going to eat meat every day for a month, until it comes out their nostrils! This time they get meat at night and something like bread each morning. It doesn’t look quite like anything they’ve seen before, so they call it manna – what’s this? It’s sweet flakes of stuff that turns up on the rocks in the mornings, left behind after the dew evaporates – this is the sort of thing that prompted the psalmist to talk about “sweet honey in the rock.”
Moaning and groaning is answered with sweet and nutritious food enough for all, provided morning and evening as they wander through the wilderness. I’m struck by the contrast around here. One group of people is making its way through the desert in search of greater promise, and once they’ve eaten the provisions they brought with them, all they can do is cry out to God in the wilderness. Another group is complaining in a land where the tables tend to have an overabundance of those Egyptian stewpots. There is more than enough food for all, but it’s not parceled out very evenly. And when some try to hoard it, it only turns to bitterness.
Peter gets mixed up in the same kind of struggles over food. He’s the apostle most closely identified with Jesus’ own people – he’s the leader of the Jewish disciples in Jerusalem. Paul is the one who goes off to meet all the foreigners. But Peter has already had a very interesting encounter with a Roman patrol officer. The soldier invites Peter over to his house so that he can learn more about what he’s heard about this Jesus. Peter’s hungry when he arrives, and he asks for something to eat. While the meal is being prepared, he falls asleep and dreams about a great feast of things he’s not supposed to eat as a good Jew. But the voice from heaven tells him, ‘don’t you dare complain about what I’ve made for you – it’s all good, and clean, and more than fit to eat.’ In the part of Acts we just heard, he’s telling everyone who will listen that the same applies to everybody – all are welcome, all are fit for relationship with God, even those foreigners. God doesn’t play favorites – or more accurately, each and every one of us is favored in God’s sight.
Mark gives us one more story about food and whining. His opponents are complaining about not being able to tell for sure if he’s legit, one might almost say that they’re checking his documents to see if they’re counterfeit. They want confirmation from headquarters – a sign from heaven. What would that look like – something like Peter’s dream? Anyway, Jesus is sick and tired of it and he and his buddies get in the boat to cross to the other side, but somebody forgot the lunch. They’ve only got one loaf – something like that little one up there on the altar. The friends are getting really anxious about what they’re going to eat and Jesus gives them a sage and yeasty piece of advice, but they think he’s talking about going without dinner. “Don’t you get it? there is always more than enough! Weren’t there leftovers when we fed all those people on the hillside – baskets and baskets of leftovers?”
There is plenty of food, and there is work enough for all, if we look for God’s abundance. The problem is the scarcity we see – food we don’t like, or strangers with different customs, or people we think are going to take the food that’s already on the table – but God has blessed everyone and everything and made us all for abundance. What is it we don’t get about that?
The only way past the fear about “not enough” is through befriending – screwing up our courage and walking into those places of “the other” to see if – just maybe – we might find the creative image of God, offering abundant life. That is what Jesus does for us, crossing into human flesh to befriend us and remind us of our favored status with God. We have to cross the border of fear that keeps us from the friend we know in Jesus, the God who goes with us wherever we are – across the border, into the wilderness, to work in the world, and at the banquet table.
Are you afraid, do you feel like there isn’t enough, that the world is a lonely place full of danger and hatred? Yes, you’re right, but come on over, pull up a chair, and sit down. God has already found you, and Jesus has already put dinner on the table. There’s more than enough for everybody, even the neighbors next door. The friend we have will get us past the fear, if we only invite him to stay for dinner.