Manna From Above, or, How Grocery Shopping Became an Accidental Spiritual Practice

This devotion is based on the story of the Israelites in Exodus 16. I encourage you to read that story before you read the rest of the devotion. You can find it online here if your Bible isn’t handy. The reflection first appeared on my Facebook page a few days ago. It has been revised and updated here.

I went grocery shopping earlier this week. We were out of sugar, cheese, and eggs, so off I went.

Carrying my freshly disinfected basket (thanks, Family Foods, for cart wipes and hand santizer!), I noticed that while there was plenty of food in the store, there were also plenty of empty shelves. Should I go back, I wondered, and get a cart? A cart, after all, could hold more food, and even if I didn’t really need it now, my family would surely eat it eventually, pandemic or no.

Now, here’s a thing you might not know: we pastors think theologically about *everything.* My reusable shopping bag was along because of my commitment to stewardship of the earth God made. I shop local when I can because I believe spending my money in my community is a way to love my neighbors, keeping them employed.

As I looked at that basket, contemplating how much more could fit in a cart, I thought of the Israelites in the Wilderness. After God freed the Israelites from Pharaoh, they spent a long time wandering through the desert on their way to the Promised Land. Naturally, they got hungry. Naturally, they whined when they were hungry.

So God gave them manna (a flaky bread) and quail every day except the Sabbath, and commanded them to gather what they needed each day, but to gather a double portion on the day before the Sabbath. Now, some of the people were scared or greedy or something, so they gathered extra every day- and it spoiled right away except on the day before the Sabbath. The day after the Sabbath, the manna and quail arrived once more, and the people ate.

I looked at my basket. I thought of the manna. I thought of my mostly well-stocked kitchen. I resolved that if I could not fit my groceries in the basket, I did not need them today. There would be manna for tomorrow, and the next day.

It was fairly easy to keep my resolve at first. There was plenty of sugar on the shelves, plenty of jam, plenty of cereal, plenty of cheese… and there were two dozen eggs of the variety I buy. My basket had room for one dozen, probably two if I balanced them carefully…

I remembered that I was not the only one who might run out of eggs that day. I told myself that there would be manna tomorrow. I left the second carton of eggs on the shelf. It was harder than it should have been, as the instinctive survival part of my brain urged me to stock up, trust in the manna and concern for my neighbor thrown to the wayside.

No, I reminded myself, there will be manna for tomorrow and the next day. I have enough. My neighbors may need eggs.

It is not easy to remember our neighbor’s needs when we could put ourselves first, especially in times of crisis. Our brains are wired for survival, not for sharing. As Christians, God calls us to put our neighbor’s need equal to our own, to take only what we need. This doesn’t come naturally, but with practice, we learn to trust.

Christians, let’s dare to trust the manna-giving God to give us enough in the days ahead. When necessary, we should prepare, certainly, as the Israelites did on the day before the Sabbath, but not in excess or selfishness or greed or fear. There will be manna for tomorrow and the next day.

Our neighbors may need eggs.

God who gave Israel manna in the wilderness, give me what I need today. Give me enough food and enough faith, enough trust and enough toilet paper, so that I can make it to tomorrow. Help me to love and care for my neighbor, daring to put their needs equal to mine. In your holy name I pray. Amen.

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