Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Each of us was given grace
according to the measure of Christ's gift.
- Ephesians 4:7
In our work and play, we have to count and measure things. For instance, last evening in Bible study, the frog in my throat was croaking, and the others discussed the correct recipe for a “hot toddy.” Nancy recalled the time when I tried to follow a friend’s “hot toddy” recipe for her bad throat: I mistakenly used a lot more liquor in the mix than I should have, and it knocked her out for twenty-four hours! (But she also credits it with knocking out her cold....)
In recipes, sports, construction, formatting documents, decorating, mechanical work, inventory, hobbies, planting and harvesting, medical work, sales, finance— in just about every activity of our lives, we learn to count and measure things. “First down and five!” “$2.49/ lb..” “Knit 1, purl 2.” “250 mg amoxicillin.” “1:4 pitch roof.” “246 half-inch widgets in the bin.” “43 bushels per acre.” “3.1% gain, this fiscal year-to-date.” “A dash of Tabasco.” “Single-spaced, 12-point font, one-inch margins.” Go ahead— think of many more examples. (How many?!!)
Biblical measurements are challenging to keep up with. Hebrew dry volume comes in “kabs” and “omers” and “measures” and “ephahs” and “homers.” An “omer” would fit in a two-liter bottle. Moses reports how “manna,” the “fine flaky substance, as fine as frost” appeared on the ground each morning. Each day in the wilderness, Sunday ‘til Friday, each Israelite was allowed to collect all the manna they wanted. Moses told the people, “This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. (Exodus 16: 16 – 18)
Did you catch that ? What an odd miracle ! Even though some people gathered more and some people gathered less, everybody ended up with equal amounts in spite of their different efforts. Why ?
Counting with Jesus in the New Testament gets weird, too. In Mark 6 and 8, and in John 6, we read how Jesus’ disciples gathered five loaves and two fishes and Jesus fed THOUSANDS of people with that little bit.
Did somebody count wrong ?
When the renowned Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann spoke in Harrisonburg in 2012, he gave us a pretty comical re-telling of the conversation that took place between Jesus and his disciples, in a boat, after the thousands had been fed (Mark 8:13-21). He portrayed Jesus as a seminary professor with a class of students who “just don’t get it.” Jesus gives them “an avalanche of questions that are really reprimands: ‘Do you have eyes and do not see ? Do you have ears and not hear? Do you have hearts and not understand? Don’t you get it? Don’t you get it, that the world has been changed?! That the Creation has been jump-started?! Don’t you get it, that I’m the guy who’s Creator of heaven and earth?! Don’t you get it, that loaves abound because the world is a carrier of God’s blessing ?!’
Then Jesus tries a different type of question: he asks about numbers and measurements: He said, ‘All right, class, back in chapter six, when I fed five thousand people, how many baskets of bread were left ?’ ‘Twelve! Twelve! Twelve!’ ‘Good, class. And in chapter 8, right above this, I fed four thousand... was there bread left ?’ Seven! Seven! Seven! Seven baskets! Seven!’ They know the numbers, because people in the Narrative of Accumulation are good at numbers— but they don’t have any idea what the numbers mean ! And at the end of the paragraph— it must have been one of Jesus’ most pathos-filled statements— he says to his disciples, ‘Do you not yet understand ? Do you not yet understand that the economics of scarcity no longer pertains? Do you not yet understand that you’re living in a new world of God’s creation ? ....
.... And I’m sure they looked at each other and thought, ‘Do you know what the hell he’s talking about ?’”
Jesus said to [the crowds],
“I am the bread of life.
Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
-John 6: 35