HANGRY: ‘The Gathering of Manna in the desert’ by Nicolas Poussin (1637)
The narrative of today’s first reading begins with some grouchy murmurs and a death – wish. After nearly four hundred years the Israelites have finally been liberated and are marching forward towards freedom. And yet, one month down the lane, they are complaining and longing to go back to slavery. Why? One may ask.
The journey to the Promised Land is not an easy path. It is the ‘road less taken’. The congregation finds itself in the midst of stark wilderness and wasteland. They are gripped by insecurity, anxiety and worst – hunger! Irritated and hangry at once they complain, ‘If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in Egypt when we sat around vessels of meat and ate all the food we wanted, whereas you have brought us to this desert to let the whole assembly die of starvation..’ Notice how conveniently they blame God for their enslavement and their current food crisis.
In response Yahweh does not rebuke them. He simply accedes to their request and rains down bread a.k.a. manna from heaven. ‘What is it?’ or ‘man hû’ the Israelites ask each other.
The raining of the bread from heaven is not the soul of today’s story. The crux lies in its aftermath. The miracle of the manna was a test by which Yahweh discerned His people’s willingness to follow His instructions. Adhering to this inquiry, the French artist Nicolas Poussin through his famous painting, virtually transports us to the encampment of the Israelites at Sinai.
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