“In the morning a dew lay all about the camp,
and when the dew evaporated, there on the surface of the desert
were fine flakes like hoarfrost on the ground.
On seeing it, the Israelites asked one another, “What is this?”
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
“This is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.” (Exodus 16:12-15)
In this reading from Exodus, the Hebrew people wandering in the desert are still on their way to the promised land. They are grumbling because there is not enough to eat. God listens to their grumbling and provides them with manna that appears on the ground like dew, every morning. Moses instructs them that the Lord provides enough for everyone to have each day but not to save up any for the next day. Some people try to save it anyway, and they find that the manna becomes full of maggots, inedible.
Many interpreters read the period of wandering in the desert as a time that the people are learning to trust and to depend on God again, after years of slavery. When Moses first goes to them in Egypt and says that God has sent him, they ask, What name does this God have, indicating that they are more distant from them since the days of their forefathers and foremothers. The name of being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and the miracles that God performs, are enough to get them to follow Moses into the desert. But they are still not ready to go into the promised land and to live lives wholly in accord with the Lord. Thus a time of wandering in the desert and getting to know the Lord again.
The daily manna is part of their learning process. The people learn their daily dependency on God rather than on themselves. When they try to stockpile up their goods, they may think that they are just being practical—just as many people who try to stockpile wealth also think it’s best kept for the sake of security and safety–and yet this paradoxically only leads to decay. Although the passage does not offer details, I imagine people so concerned to collect manna that they forget to enjoy the gifts of one another, or to be grateful, in striving for “more.”
Jesus is named as the bread of life in John’s gospel. The Eucharist is our daily food, and in a larger sense, so too is learning to depend on the Lord here and now, rather than putting our trust in changeable things. For most of us–we who are not hungry, homeless, or fighting for survival in war–our basic daily needs are already met. Yet many people strive for a sense of even more security. Instead, Jesus encourages us to stay with the here and now. We are encouraged to stay in our relationships of today, to strive to love God and to love one another, rather than to strive for our own security. Love always involves some risk of self, yet it’s how we are called to live, day by day, depending on the Lord in all that we do.