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."
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!."
Today we also start a series of parables from Matthew's gospel. A parable is a story which ends with a single punch-line that emerges naturally from the story yet usually takes the reader somewhat by surprise by its application. As we compare the same parable in different gospels, we see how each evangelist felt free to adapt these enigmatic stories.
As we compare Exodus with the gospel, we observe two different ways in which God deals with his people: in Exodus, miraculously; in Matthew, naturally, by the farmer's hard work. Comparing Exodus and Jeremiah, we see also two different types of grumbling and complaints. After leaving Egypt, the people begin to murmur, first about the bitter water (15:24) and now about the scarcity of meat and bread. Clearly they preferred slavery with plenty to eat, rather than freedom and human dignity without these material benefits. God responded with a miracle that was not just for the benefit of the grumblers but for all future generations of his people, extending to ourselves. The Book of Wisdom looked on the manna as symbolic of all God's wonderful gifts:… You nourished your people with food of angels and furnished them bread from heaven, ready at hand, untoiled-for, endowed with all delights and conforming to every taste… (Wis 16:20-21).
The parable of the sower insists on another side of God's dealings with us. 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 Israelites in the desert were demanding instant paradise and refused to follow the slow trek through the desert with its austerities and deprivations. What a contrast we see in the prophet Jeremiah, a man of strong and humble faith, tested in all sorts of ways and still persevering in his mission. While the grumbling in the desert grew out of a selfish disposition, Jeremiah's complaints came from the strength of his faith in God's providential care.