The children of Israel lamented,
“Would that we had meat for food!
We remember the fish we used to eat without cost in Egypt,
and the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks,
the onions, and the garlic.
But now we are famished;
we see nothing before us but this manna.”
He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away;
give them some food yourselves.”
But they said to him,
“Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.”
The liturgical calendar provides us with times both of feasting and fasting. Both are essential to the Christian tradition: at times savoring the gifts God has given us, at times going without those gifts as an act of love for Him above any earthly attachments. The periods of fasting built into the liturgical year help prepare us for experiences of spiritual famine that we will encounter in our lives.
Sometimes, we are disappointed with the hand we’ve been dealt in life. Maybe we find ourselves in the desert with only manna to eat, tortured by memories of the Passover feast we enjoyed not so long ago. Maybe we are wondering anxiously how we can possibly feed a multitude when we can gather only crumbs. Maybe we struggle to get through Ash Wednesday without our usual chicken sandwich. Whatever the situation, when our sustenance is meager compared to what we’re used to, we question whether it will be enough for us to survive on.
We worry that what we’ve been given won’t be enough; we want the reassurance and self-sufficiency of having a surplus instead of having just enough for today. But instead God gives us only what we need for the moment, so that we will learn to rely upon Him and trust Him. Once we see that He is faithful in giving us our daily bread, we will continue to return to Him to sustain us day after day.
Image: Elihu Vedder, Prayer for Death in the Desert / PD-US