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9/24: Strange Workings

Center for Research Collections, Edinburgh/Flickr • bit.ly/2fsQpjI

16 Pentecost, Sept. 24

Ex. 16:2-15 or Jonah 3:10-4:11
Ps. 105:1-6, 37-45 or Ps. 145:1-8
Phil. 1:21-30Matt. 20:1-16

God heard the cries of his people and with a mighty arm and many wonders delivered them from their bondage in Egypt. In the wilderness, suffering from burning thirst and wrenching hunger, the people complained against Moses and Aaron. Again, God heard, and sent quail for their evening meat, and manna for their morning meal. Deliverance from slavery in Egypt and the giving of food in the wilderness; two great stories told again and again. The people will proclaim and sing the deeds of God among his people, all his wonderful works, his miracles, his judgments (Ps. 105:1-5). “Egypt was glad when they departed, for dread of them has fallen upon it. … They asked, and he brought quails, and gave them food from heaven in abundance” (Ps. 105:38, 40). Who is like the Lord our God who sets us free and then gives evening meat and morning Eucharist?

The infusion of grace and the response of faith may say such things. On a purely natural level, however, the mighty works of God may seem less wondrous, may not even be noticed. Consider the manna from heaven. “Manna is the honey-like dropping from the tamarisk tree of Palestine and Sinai,” says the New Jerome Biblical Commentary. “The droppings from the tamarisk are secretions from two kinds of scale lice, which suck large quantities of liquid from the twigs in spring in order to collect nitrogen for their grubs. It contains glucose and fructose but no protein and cannot be harvested in quantity.” The words droppings, secretions, lice, and grubs conjure something other than the domestic warmth of homemade bread. No wonder, when seeing this meal from heaven, the people of God said, “What is it?” Alternately, it could be a statement: “It is manna!” The deepest truth lies perhaps in the middle: “It is — what is it?”

God has spoken: “I am who I am” (Ex. 3:14), the I am who creates. God creates “a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground,” and, through his servant Moses, explains: “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat” (Ex. 16:15). Take, eat, this is my body, this is the bread I give. The food is strange, as are the many works of God. God is ever working, but may not be noticed. God gives, and it is faith, also a gift, that sees sustenance in strange things given. “His greatness is unsearchable” (Ps. 145:3). God is freedom and food in precisely the way he ordains.

If the inscrutable workings of God are pulled within the orbit of a narrow logic, the wonders of God will seem predictable and the election of his people justified. Nothing will seem odd, nothing strange. When God is so domesticated, those who confess their love of God may be quite startled to see him move in ways unanticipated, even resent the freedom of divine election and mercy. God saved the people of Nineveh long ago, but Jonah complained. “O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country?” (Jonah 4:2). Jonah preferred death to the mercy of God over this foreign city.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard” (Matt. 20:1). Thus far we are at ease. At the end of the day, however, having recruited laborers throughout the day, the landowner gives to each a full day’s wage. To those who bore the heat of the day, this seems unfair. But is not God utterly free to elect and to save?

Look It Up
Read Matthew 20:16.

Think About It
It doesn’t make sense.


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