Not every reflection that’s come to mind has been happy go lucky. Some of them flat out … stink.
Have you ever smelled – or tasted – something that has gotten spoiled, kept post-date? Parents have, for sure, experiencing that moment when the three-day-old yogurt is discovered, opened, in their child’s lunchbox on Monday morning as they go to pack Monday’s school lunch. It stinks! But it’s more than that, because it permeates whatever the container is, or even the container’s container.
The Israelites of the Old Testament knew that smell, at least some of them did, because they kept manna overnight when Moses specifically told them not to do it. They were so concerned about a thousand tomorrows that they stopped trusting God for their today.
In the days after Moses led the people out of Egypt, after the Creator of the Universe and the God of the Israelites freed the Israelites from decades of slavery to the cruel Egyptians, the Israelites complained to God that they would have been better off left in Egypt because they had plenty of food there. This isn’t just revisionist history, this is “revisionist memory,” and we’re all guilty of it: when we figure that our present trouble is actually worse than what God has already seen us through.
But God’s response to the Israelite issue is grace-filled, generous, and awe-inspiring. God says, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.”
Get that for a minute: God promises to bring the people just what they need each day, via manna from heaven (a bread-like substance) in the morning and quail in the evening. God promises their DAILY BREAD in the Old Testament, years before Jesus would teach his disciples what is commonly known now as the Lord’s Prayer. It requires trust, right?
And because humans are human, we get this — after Moses passes on the message not to keep it overnight — “they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell.” That’s pretty quickly perishable, isn’t it?
The truth is that there were Israelites who “got it” and only took what they needed, but when the other Israelites kept too much, the maggots got in the camp. So, the sickness- that awful smell – would’ve been in the camp, even for the people who only took what they needed.
What’s happening all around us is pretty quickly turning into a case of rotten manna at times, even while in other places generosity is actually rising up. Grocery stores and others can’t seem to keep toilet paper in stock, or sometimes necessities like milk, while other places are even opening up their stores to the needy and at-risk at different times so they can get enough.
So, I’m wondering, do you smell that? Do you see the maggots? Our society has this opportunity to move from the smell, and the maggots, to the generosity that will change what happens NOW and what happens AFTER. We have the opportunity to be grace-filled toward the people who don’t have enough, or who have an ill-prepared mindset for however long this current “shutdown” lasts. We have the opportunity to recognize that those who have two coats should give one to those who have none – an idea that seems to be endorsed at Christmas but doesn’t always get put on blast throughout the rest of the year. We have the opportunity to turn a rotten situation into the “sweet scent rising to God, which is recognized by those on the way of salvation—an aroma redolent with life” (2 Corinthians 2:15, The Message).
Let’s take what we need for today, and recognize that our inability to corporately worship can still become acts of worship today. “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you” (James 1:27, NLT). Who can you serve today by only taking what you need, and sacrificing the false security of a thousand tomorrows?