Today’s scripture reminds me of a line from the Threepenny Opera: “Erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.” (First comes food, then comes the morals.) Bertolt Brecht meant to say that we’re all just animals, committing whatever crime necessary to keep from starving; civility and morality are merely hobbies we take up once our bellies are full.
Exodus 17 doesn’t go as far as Brecht, but it certainly shows us that the Israelites (and we) have a hard time concentrating on spiritual things when our physical well-being is in question. In last week’s scripture, the Israelites were sure they were going to die of hunger in the wilderness, fantasizing about being back in Egypt where they dipped big chunks of bread into steaming bowls of stew the size of their heads. In this week’s passage, they’re sure that they’ll die of thirst in the wilderness. You can almost hear Moses’ exasperated tone when he asks God, “What shall I do with these people?”
Psalm 95 turns this wilderness story into a cautionary tale: “O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your ancestors tested me, and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.” (Psalm 95:7-9) We are called to remember what God has done for us in the past and trust that he’ll care for us in the future—even when we’re hungry and thirsty.
God knows our needs, physical and spiritual. Perhaps this is why food metaphors are so prevalent in the Bible. Indeed, all of our communion songs this week speak of our hunger and thirst, and how these needs are met in Jesus Christ. This is not just pie-in-the-sky; this is something we experience every Sunday at the Table.
–Greg Scheer, minister of worship