What I think the folks in our first reading need to learn – and maybe us too – is that the spiritual life is always about the big picture. The Israelites in today’s reading have completely rejected the God of their salvation. God had taken them from abject slavery in Egypt, in which they were oppressed beyond anything we could possibly imagine – let alone endure – and led them through the desert, through the Red Sea (covering the pursuing Egyptians in the process), and into safety. He is going to give them the Promised Land, but they, thank you very much, would prefer to return to Egypt so that they no longer have to sustain themselves on the bread that they have from the very hand of God himself. They would rather have meat and garlic and onions, and whatever, than freedom and blessing from God. What a horrible, selfish people they have become.
And Moses is no better. He alone has been allowed to go up the mountain to be in the very presence of God. No one else could get so close to God and live to tell the story. God has given him the power to do miraculous deeds in order to lead the people. And yet, when things get tough, he too would prefer death than to be in the presence of God.
And aren’t we just like them sometimes? It’s easy to have faith when things are going well, and we are healthy, and our family is prospering. But the minute things come along to test us, whether it is illness, or death of a loved one, or job troubles, or whatever, it’s hard to keep faith. “Where is God when I need him?” we might ask. We just don’t often have the spiritual attention spans to see the big picture. We forget the many blessings God has given us, and ask “Well what has he done for me lately?”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus feeds the crowds until they are satisfied and have baskets of leftovers besides. God’s blessings to us are manifold, and it is good to meditate on them when times are good, and remember them when times are bad. God never wills the trials we go through, and he never forgets or abandons us when we are in the midst of those trials. God feeds us constantly with finest wheat. That’s the big picture, and we must never lose sight of it.