When hearing the Old Testament and Gospel stories read to us today, one word runs through both of them; it is the word: GRUMBLING.
As Moses is trying to lead a people through the wild spaces beyond Egypt and the end-of-the trek journey to their own homeland, all he hears is grumbling!
Night and day the people are complaining to Moses and Aaron, blaming them for leading them out of Egypt.
Forget the conditions there; forget their bleak future as slave laborers in Egypt. Sure, they fed them bread but it was so they had the strength to work for their captors under lashes of the whip and even harsher punishment for anyone who dared to step out of line.
Yet they railed at Moses and Aaron and not their Lord Who had called them out and promised to go with them,
because the people couldn’t see God, but they could see Moses and Aaron; it was to them that God spoke and said,
‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat,
in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’
Moses assured them; God would give meat in the evening – quail, and in the morning - bread.
But when the morning dew lifted to reveal a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’
From grumbling to interrogating and Moses had to convince them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.’
What God promised, God provided…in such abundance that the people were too full to grumble.
Centuries later rabbis added advice meant to expand the lessons taught through Scripture. (Everyman’s Talmud, Abraham Cohen, P. 244)
One dietary rule was to fill one-third of the stomach with bread, one third with water, and leave the other third -
to be filled with meditating on God’s law, ingesting it like bread, the “Bread” that God gives; then a person is fully nourished.
Eventually when the stories were committed to scrolls, that third portion was celebrated in the longest song in the Book of Psalms, Psalm 119. One verse reads: “Oh, how I love your law (Word/Bread)! It is my meditation all day long.” (vs. 97)
The third portion of Scriptural “bread” which, when it becomes our diet, is meant to affect us as it did those who ate the flaky breakfast God provided in the wilderness, and fill us up to be too full to grumble.
The “Bread of Scripture” that leaped from the pages when God in Christ reenacted that wilderness scene as He invited a hungry people to sit down and as He served them, He said, “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness and they died.” But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” “I am the bread of life!” (John 6: 38, 48, 35) An announcement that outraged the religious teachers of the Law; Oh, did they grumble, a grumbling that spread to His own disciples and any who were within hearing of today’s Gospel story.
Although it shifts the scene from bread to grapes, there is grumbling that comes when all are paid a full day’s salary, from those hired at dawn to the end of the line called up to work the last hour, the truth waiting to be seen in both wilderness and vineyard is: This is God’s doing! It’s all about the generosity and grace of God.
The flaky breakfast in the wilderness is meant to turn that third part of the rabbis’ prescribed menu into feeding on all the evidences of God’s abundance waiting to be discovered, celebrated, enjoyed, and shared.
It’s all about being so filled with gratitude that we are too full to grumble; instead we sing: “When I in awesome wonder survey all you have made, my soul cries out, ‘How great Thou art!’” The grumble-silencing generosity of God!
The same wage is all about seeing that the paycheck is drawn from God’s bank where the currency is God’s grace, God’s love in action, made visible in Jesus! God is the Employer and the Paymaster! It’s all about the grace of God. The grumble-silencing grace of God!
An old story tells about a man who died and is greeted at the pearly gates by Peter, who says, "Here's how it works. You need 100 points to make it into heaven. You tell me all the good things you've done, and I give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you get in.”
“Okay," the man says, "I was married to the same women for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart." “That's wonderful," says St. Peter, "that's worth three points.”
“Three points?" He says. "Well, I attended church all my life and supported its ministry with my tithe and service."
“Terrific!" say's St. Peter. "That's certainly worth a point."
"One point? Well I started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans." “Fantastic, that's good for two more points," he says.
"Two points!" The man cries, "At this rate the only way to get into heaven is by the grace of God!" Peter smiled. "There's your 100 points! Come on in!"
The truth in Jesus’ story that has us celebrating God’s question, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
God’s generosity of grace that turns teens away from drugs and alcohol to a love that will not let them go; love that creates a community that becomes home for the homeless; love that is greater than all our sin; love that silences grumbling and has us taking a deep breath to exclaim, “How great Thou art!” An exclamation that becomes a commitment to Paul’s charge:
live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, …standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and …in no way intimidated by your opponents.
For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing.
The grace of God in Jesus Christ that fills us up to be too full to grumble! Amen.