The rabble among the Israelites had a strong craving; and they also wept again, and said, "If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at." Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its color was like the color of gum resin. The people went around and gathered it, ground it in mills or beat it in mortars, then boiled it in pots and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. When the dew fell on the camp in the night, the manna would fall with it.
Moses heard the people weeping throughout their families, all at the entrances of their tents. Then the Lord became very angry, and Moses was displeased. So Moses said to the Lord, "Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, 'Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,' to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors? Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they come weeping to me and say, 'Give us meat to eat!' I am not able to carry all this people alone, for they are too heavy for me. If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once - if I have found favor in your sight - and do not let me see such misery as this."
My people did not heed my voice
and Israel would not obey,
so I left them in their stubbornness of heart
to follow their own designs. (R./)
O that my people would heed me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
At once I would subdue their foes,
turn my hand against their enemies. (R./)
The Lord's enemies would cringe at their feet
and their subjection would last for ever.
But Israel I would feed with finest wheat
and fill them with honey from the rock. (R./)
When Jesus heard the news of John the Baptis's death, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.
When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." And he said, "Bring them here to me." Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
The Book of Numbers reports a blazing row between Moses and some rebels among the people he was supposed to lead. The refugees he led out of Egypt were "a crowd of mixed ancestry" (Exod 12:38) and we hear about an alien, foreign element among them (Num 11:4). The Hebrew word might well be translated "riffraff." If such people are to be moulded into a "kingdom of priests, a holy nation" (Exod 19:6), it will take years of purification and training. Moses wanted the people to risk going immediately to the promised land; but they rebelled and threatened to stone him unless he changed his mind. His impatience at their rejection of his leadership is not surprising; but he prayed God to forgive them and to show mercy.
Jesus’ disciples were tempted to follow the easy way out of trouble. We read how they came up with the suggestion, "Dismiss the crowds so that they may go to the villages and buy some food for themselves." Whenever we are faced with a difficult challenge, let’s not only consider our limited resources, but be guided by compassion and respect for others. In our heart we will hear God’s genuine word. At such times we can also imitate Peter and cry out, "Lord, save me."
Different people react in different ways to the same crisis. At the sight of a hungry mass of people, Jesus responds in a very different way to his followers. They wanted him to send the crowd away. He wanted them to try to feed the crowd. Even though they protested that there was nothing like enough food, Jesus persisted, and they brought him the little food they could find. With that little, with such few resources, the whole crowd were fed.
He will always encourage us to offer some service to others, even when our resources are scarce. If we are generous with what we have, the Lord will manage to surprise us. He can work wonders through the ordinary resources and gifts we’ve got. We need to do our bit, like the disciples in the gospel, but God does more. If we are unwilling to do the little we can with what we have, the Lord’s outreach to others is curtailed. Our strength and resources, however small, help to continue his good work among us.