Dr. Peter Marty: 10 Bible stories that breathe life: Stockpiling life

We never seem to have enough and prospect of shortfall frightens us silly

Read Exodus 16:1-36

One of the more memorable New Yorker magazine cartoons of recent years depicts an older man sitting up in bed, reflecting on the life he is about to conclude. The bedroom curtains are blowing in the wind. A young man, possibly his grandson, stands beside the bed holding his hands. Looking the youngster in the eye, the dying man says, "I should have bought more crap."

We live in a time where there is this insatiable desire for more. Actually it's a desire as old as the human species. Our consumer culture merely advertises more aggressively than past societies. If cemetery headstones were available for purchase at big box stores, the generic epitaph He never had quite enough could be a best-seller. Or, She always wanted a little more.

In the suburb where I live, the most imaginative commercial construction we seem to be able to attract is either a new car wash or another storage unit facility. Just this summer, earth moving equipment mowed down a gorgeous grove of trees on 10 acres of rolling hills. Long rows of concrete block buildings, hosting one garage door after another, now house the stuff we can't fit into our homes.

We never seem to have enough. The prospect of a personal shortfall frightens us silly. When forecasters predict a blizzard, hurricane or even severe thunderstorms, shoppers clear out supermarket shelves as if there were no tomorrow. Weather Channel junkies can be the worst offenders. People embark on absurd stockpiling. The night before one snowstorm several years ago, I saw a woman buy two years' worth of toilet paper. Perhaps she had an intestinal disorder that I had no business knowing about.

When the ancient Hebrew people evacuated Egypt and Moses took them on a 40-year excursion through the wilderness, it wasn't long before the complaining began. "Where is the all-you-can-eat buffet that we enjoyed in Egypt?" There was, of course, no such feasting when these people baked through years of slavery under the hot sun. But memory plays tricks on the human spirit, especially when one feels cheated.

Whatever handsome travel brochures these Israelites might have been handed, their bodies were woefully unprepared for a lack of food and water. Brickmaking under the whip of a master seemed a vacation compared to this exhausting journey of harsh surprises. Whenever wilderness is mentioned in the Bible, it typically means everything a person would not want. To these Israelites, it was a dreadful place of forced starvation.

They complained mightily. The Lord, who must have extraordinarily large and patient ears, heard their complaining. The next thing they knew, bread was showing up on a daily basis. Actually, it wasn't bread as they imagined, rising warm and crisp on a bakery shelf. It was a fine flaky substance that appeared on the ground, mixed with the cool morning dew. Descriptions elsewhere in the Bible suggest that the odd substance came from plant lice attacking the fruit of tamarisk trees, which then excreted a yellowish-?white juice rich in carbohydrates and sugar. The major drawback of this food was that it rotted under the heat of the sun, quickly attracting ants.

The Israelites called it man hu, which in Hebrew means "What is it?" - the same thing children say when they turn up their noses at unfamiliar cuisine. We translate it as manna.

What the people couldn't seem to get straight was God's command to quit hoarding the stuff. For reasons well known to us who clear out market shelves when a thunderstorm is on the horizon, these Israelites were determined to stockpile. Instead of gathering up only one day's worth, as Moses had ordered, they tried to Tupperware the manna. This strategy only bred worms and disgust. Besides, it missed the whole point of God providing abundantly in a daily way.

We are still trying to fully appreciate the giver behind our daily bread. Unfortunately, a myth keeps telling us that there is not enough to go around. So we go on buying those plastic bins ... which, by the way, are on sale today.

[Taken with permission from The Lutheran magazine, November issue.TheLutheran.org]