The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, "If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger."
Then the Lord said to Moses, "I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days."
Then Moses said to Aaron, "Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, 'Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.'" And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, "I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, 'At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.'
In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as 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. Moses said to them, "It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat."
In their heart they put God to the test
by demanding the food they craved.
They even spoke against God. They said:
'Is it possible for God to prepare a table in the desert?' (R./)
Yet he commanded the clouds above
and opened the gates of heaven.
He rained down manna for their food,
and gave them bread from heaven. (R./)
Mere men ate the bread of angels.
He sent them abundance of food.
He made the east wind blow from heaven
and roused the south wind by his might. (R./)
He rained food on them like dust,
winged fowl like the sands of the sea.
He let it fall in the midst of their camp
and all around their tents. (R./)
Jesus left the house and sat beside the sea. Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: "Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. Let anyone with ears listen!"
We have just read the first of a series of parables from Matthew’s gospel. The parables of Jesus often end with a clear punch-line that invites us to reflect on the quality of our living. As we compare the same parable in different gospels, we see how each evangelist felt free to adapt these enigmatic stories told by Jesus.
Comparing the text from Exodus with today’s parable, they describe two different views of how God deals with his people: in the Exodus saga, God intervenes by signs and wonders; in the parable, God works quietly, making the farmer’s hard work fruitful. After leaving Egypt the Israelites started to complain, first about the bitter water (15:24) and then about the scarcity of meat and bread. Clearly they preferred a return to slavery in a land where they had plenty to eat, rather risk the journey to freedom and human dignity through the desert. God responded with a miracle that was not just for the benefit of the grumblers but for all future generations of his people, including ourselves.
Jesus describes the normal growth of wheat or barley. The system of fanning is quite different from ours but it would have been familiar to his listeners. Jesus draws attention to the certainty of the harvest, yielding "grain a hundred- or sixty- or thirty-fold." This harvest excludes nobody from the kingdom: whether with few or with many talents, all have a part. Not only does the natural process of sowing, growth and harvesting contrast with the sudden appearance of the quail and manna, but the parable insists on the virtue of waiting.
The people in the desert wanted instant gratification and rejected the slow trek through the desert with its austerities and deprivations. What a contrast to Moses, a man of strong and humble faith, tested in all sorts of ways and still persevering in his mission to lead the people under God’s providential care.
Toward the end of his life the physicist Stephen Hawking contemplated the future of the human race with concern. He feared that with humankind’s instinctive leaning towards greed and oppression, any hope of conflict lessening was misplaced and that new technologies would only make things worse. The only hope for human survival, he felt, would be in independent colonies living in space. This was not the first time this brilliant man gave us food for thought. His recognition of flawed humanity echoes the old Christian doctrine of original sin but his suggestion of a promised land in outer space overlooks one simple fact. If human nature is flawed, as Hawking suggests and Christians believe, then our imperfections will remain wherever we are, on planet Earth or in space. We will always need the help of God’s grace.
Jesus had no illusions about the frailty of humankind; he met it throughout his ministry but he also recognised potential in many ordinary people that he met. While he acknowledged the reality of human greed and aggression that troubled professor Hawking, he also pointed to our God-given capacity to love and proved its transforming power by his own actions, many times. Christians believe that God is love and wherever love is experienced God is present and active. This enables us to speak of hope not only in the here and now but also into the future.
There are choices to be made and the parable of the Sower explains some of the choices people make. Some are simply not interested; some engage for a while but give up; some are preoccupied with what is going on in their lives: , the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things (that) enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But what a harvest is there, for those who welcome the word with good and generous hearts.