In the First Reading, the Israelites are finally at the promised land. The Exodus is over, and the Israelites eat the parched grain from the produce of the land.
The Exodus was a tough time for the Israelites. But, almost from the start, there was one peril in the desert that the Israelites did not suffer from: lack of food.
That is because God himself fed them. A funny kind of food appeared on the ground, and the Israelites gathered it in. When that funny food first showed up on the ground, the Israelites said, “What is that?”—“mah na,” in their language. (And ‘manna’ is what it came to be called by them, and by us.)
The Israelites learned fast what the answer to their question was. The stuff on the ground, the manna, was like Tolkien’s lembas or Elvenbread. It was unbelievably nourishing. You could go a very long time on just a little of it. And it was delicious. It was light; it had something of the taste of coriander about it; and there was a suspicion of honey in it, too. It was magically good, and it came from the hand of God, who hand-fed his people in the wilderness.
Who would ever want to give up manna?
When the Exodus ended, the manna did too. One night the Israelites ate the parched grain they found in the promised land, and the next day there was no more manna.
I don’t know what parched grain is, but it doesn’t sound worth having by comparison with manna, does it? It doesn’t sound delicious. It doesn’t come from the hand of God; you have to get it for yourself. And you have to work to grow it. It doesn’t just magically appear on the ground in the morning.
Who would ever want to trade manna for parched grain?
But the parched grain was the beginning of life in the promised land, where the Israelites found a home. The consoling sweetness of manna came out of the harshness of the conditions of the Exodus. Out of the sorrow of trading manna for parched grain there came the consolation of home.
And here is the lesson for us. The Lord’s goodness never fails. It just has to be waited for.