A few Super Bowls past, Snickers candy bars began a clever ad campaign. One ad showed 4 people in a car driving through desert landscape. Three of the people were young men in their 20’s, but the fourth was a high maintenance complaining passenger (played by Aretha Franklin) who was moaning about everything – “Can you turn up the AC? I’m dying back here.” When a passenger in the front tells them that the AC is on high, “Can’t you feel it?” He is rewarded with a smack on the back of the head, “Can you feel that?” The backseat companion encourages the complainer to eat a snickers because “When you’re hungry you turn into a diva.” After eating a Snickers candy bar provided by the concerned friend, the diva is transformed back into themselves and indicates that they are “better” …. But still their old selves, just one not complaining at the moment.
The Israelites in the first reading are moaning about everything. “Would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt, as we sat by our fleshpots and ate our fill of bread! But you had to lead us into this desert to make the whole community die of famine!” When their “concerned friend,” God, provides the manna to satisfy them – I don’t know that they are better. They stopped complaining, but only for a while. Turn a few pages in the Book of Exodus and the Israelites are transformed back into their old selves, and complain and moan about one thing or another.
It is not the bread they were used to in Egypt. The manna didn’t look like the flour that they had in Egypt; it didn’t taste as good. It is not the Snickers they wanted and so they are unable to realize God’s blessings. They were still holding onto what was, instead of looking to see what could be. They wanted plan A, but God gave them Plan B and delivered every morning in the wilderness.
Plan B did not keep the Israelites from looking back to the security of Egypt – even if it meant a return to slavery. But looking over your shoulder means you are not paying attention to the present, not confronting their hungers and their fear. And not seeing an answer in Plan B. Plan B was the means to let them put aside their old life and let a new-self emerge. But they just keep complaining never addressing the discontent that they felt within.
Have you ever had the experience at a store when you think you have cause to be upset with the service or the product and you are angry. You returning something that was defective. You had bought it at the last moment, discovered you couldn’t use it, and your plans were ruined. You are upset and at the customer counter. The person behind the counter is offering you Plan B, C and D, but you just can’t see it. Same way with God if no matter what God does to help us we complain and blame God. We aren’t ourselves when we’re “hungry” and God isn’t meeting our immediate needs – at least not in the way we want, the way we are used to, the way we expect. Here’s the deal: if you want to get to the promised land you have to leave Egypt behind.
It is as St. Paul tells the Ephesians in the second reading. “I declare and testify in the Lord that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; [seek the] truth in Jesus, that you should put away the old self of your former way of life.” If you want to get to the promised land you have to leave behind the old self, the former ways, the hungers, the fears, and put on Christ. St. Paul encourages us to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self.”
It is the old ways, the “this-is-the-way-we-do-it-here” syndrome that sometimes become anchors and keeps us in Egypt when the goal is the promised land. In today’s gospel it is looking over their shoulders to the story of Moses and the miracle of manna that holds the people back. It is why they ask, “What do we have to do? Are we gonna’ have to harvest manna every morning like our ancestors?” They are hungry for something, they can’t put their finger on it, and they are at the retail counter of life complaining. “What must we do to accomplish the works of God?” They want their own Plan A even if they can’t describe it, but Jesus is offering Plan B. Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.” In other words, you can’t earn it and you don’t need to – it is all gift. Just believe in me for “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” “Look over ,my shoulder and see the real promised land.’
And here we are this morning. We have our complaints; we grumble about stuff. In this way we are the Israelites in the desert. Clothed in our old self we go to the retail counter of friends and complain. We take our grumbling, hunger and fears to prayer. Our Plan A is for God to fix it all, make it better, to give us the divine Snicker’s bar so that we can revert to a better self – not realizing it is still the old self. Plan A is almost never God’s plan. Plan A just leaves you back where you were, stuck in your own personal Egypt.
Plan B is looking to the Promised Land. Plan B puts aside the old self and puts on Christ. Plan B has no Snicker’s bars, but only the person of Jesus. Only belief in the person of Jesus – the one who said “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” Jesus offers the truth that he is, the life that he is, the way that he is, the resurrection that he is. You can enjoy his teaching and marvel at his miracles, but until you begin to believe in the Christ, you can expect to be the old self and expect to wake up in Egypt enslaved.
Or you can begin to believe in Jesus and start to walk the way, the truth and the life, with eyes set on the Promised Land. Keeping in mind Jesus’ Plan B is always filled with surprises. Keep your eyes open. And along the way pay attention to your own complaints in order to know your deeper hungers and desires that no Snickers bar can satisfy.
Snickers are a good thing, not a lasting thing. Jesus is the best thing and endures for all eternity.