2The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The 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.”
4Then 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. 5On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7and in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD, because he has heard your complaint against the LORD. For what are we, that you complain against us? 8And Moses said, “When the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the LORD has heard the complaining that you utter against him - what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the LORD.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God
17As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life? 1Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. 19You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.’” 20He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.” 21Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” 22When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.
23Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!” 24And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom.” 26They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?” 27Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”
This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.
We are slowly moving.
We join the Israelites on their way out of Egypt, and we join Jesus "As he was setting out on a journey." We are slowly moving, but we keep hitting these bumps in the road. Seems like every little thing shakes loose along our path, and we can't quite shake off the things that hold us back. We want to leap forward into the future filled with hope that we read about in scripture...
For the Israelites in our Exodus passage, the memory of Egypt holds them back. The ten plagues have gotten them out of Egypt, and the rushing waters of the sea have thrown the Egyptian empire into chaos, but the people are still in bondage.
Jesus is on a journey, one that will lead him eventually to the cross, and a man runs up and kneels before him. But Jesus is not the one who is held back. His movement continues to carry him towards the cross. It is the man who is held back.
The man who kneels before Jesus sees himself as law-abiding, he’s done everything right, he’s worked hard, he’s kept the commandments, he has been richly blessed by God. Perhaps, in this moment, he’s looking for an assurance, a pat on the head from Jesus.
If that’s what he was looking for, he doesn’t get it. “Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, ‘You lack one thing.’” For all his work, for all his righteous deeds, for all his accomplishments, Jesus tells him, “You lack one thing.”
Of course, as we know, it’s kind of a big thing. Being loved by Jesus tends to come with a helping of challenges. “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” He lacks one thing, even though he has many possessions, even though he had kept all the commandments, he lacks one thing…
So instead of the “attaboy” the man expected, “he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” In spite of his many possessions, he didn’t realize to whom he was talking. In spite of knowing and living by the commandments, he didn’t know where Jesus would lead him.
The Israelites in Exodus 16 know that God is leading them out of slavery in Egypt and into the promised land. Yet even so, old habits die hard, and the few creatures comforts they received while in bondage they long for in the wilderness. So they complain. “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…” God hears them complain, and I’ve always pictured God getting a little frustrated with his petty people. He pulls Moses aside and tells him “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you.” Y’all are going to have so much bread from heaven it’ll be coming out of your ears. You are going to know that this is not a magic trick, or even human leadership, because for mortals, this kind of providence would be impossible. But not for God. You’re hungry? Done. Have all the food you can eat each day. “In that way I will test them, whether they follow my instruction or not.”
God providence challenges us to be disciples, because our needs are already provided for, the question is, how will we respond. How will we rise to the challenge of God’s grace?
It’s not as though gathering all that bread in is going to save us. Later in this chapter, anything left over just melts away. God gives us enough, and if we grab more, all it does is spoil and hold us back. God gives us enough for the journey, but he also challenges us to follow along the journey.
As we know, the journey leads to the cross. Then it leads to the empty tomb, and the ascension, and the age of the Spirit. And exactly none of that is up to us. Our Salvation is already accomplished, our journey to the promised land is already set. But it’s not something we have done. For mortals, it is impossible, but not for God.
When Jesus refers to the "eye of a needle" he's not referring to a mystical narrow gate into Jerusalem. He's talking about a big hairy animal and a tiny sewing tool. It's meant to be obviously impossible. A camel cannot fit through a needle. Just so, we cannot buy our way into heaven with our many possessions, or even with our many good deeds.
We cannot do it ourselves. Even if we could, we would more likely choose the bread we knew in Egypt than set out into the wilderness. If we were merely invited to follow Jesus, we would be shocked at the cost of discipleship and go away grieving, because the cost is dear.
"For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible."
Our presence on this journey isn't based on an "if," and it's not based on human ability or goodness. God has already saved us. God has already brought us out of Egypt. This man Jesus, who is the Christ, the Son of the Most High God, has already been through the cross, has already emptied the tomb so that we would know that for God all things are possible.
We are slowly moving, but we are moving. God is already gathering us in, moment by moment, not waiting for us, but grabbing hold of us with love that will not let us go. The challenges God gives us come from a place of love, not of judgment or condemnation. The LORD who made us challenges us to set aside what holds us back from God, not because God is waiting for us to save ourselves, but because we will know God better, and know ourselves better, when we live with grateful and faithful hearts.
So it is possible? No.
But it is already accomplished.