Our First Reading is all about wailing and whining. First, we have the Israelites, fresh from their escape from Egypt, wailing and whining about their menu in the desert. “If only we had meat to eat!” they cried out, reciting a litany of the food they missed and singing the praises of Egyptian cuisine. Of course they grew sick of their daily diet of heaven-sent manna, which, we’re told by the way, tasted like “cakes baked with oil.”
But that’s not all: Even their prophet Moses, hearing their complaints, joined the bandwagon and did his own wailing and whining too, complaining to God about how the people burdened him so much. “I’m not their mother!” he basically told God. And he must have felt really bad because he ended by declaring: “If this is the way you are going to treat me, put me to death at once!”
In the Bible, we find other well-known complainers as well. There was, of course, Job, that upright man who suffered much. Every conceivable catastrophe had befallen the poor man. Job is known for accepting his suffering graciously, but that’s only in the first couple of chapters. He actually spent about thirty chapters in the book reciting his litany of woes and questioning God about his suffering! He even said, “Perish the day I was born!”
And then, of course, we have one of my favorite biblical characters, the prophet Jonah, who, as we know, was finally convinced by a whale to head to Nineveh on a mission for God. He uttered only eight words–“Forty days more, and Nineveh will be destroyed!”–and the entire kingdom led by the king himself put on sackcloth and ashes in repentance. You’d think he’d be delirious about having preached the shortest, but most successful homily in history, but nope, he was very unhappy. He complained to God about His mercy. “So predictable!” he snorted, throwing a tantrum and–again–wishing to die.
That’s a whole gang of noisy biblical complainers. No wonder Jerusalem has a Wailing Wall!
But what’s my point? God actually doesn’t seem to mind receiving complaints–as long as we complain to Him! He’s not too pleased when we wail and whine about how life sucks to one another. Look what He did to the complaining Israelites. He promised Moses that He would send them so much quail meat that it would literally “come out of their nostrils.” And true enough, indigestion–among other things–came upon the greediest Israelites. But the equally complaining Moses did something different: He incorporated his wailing and whining into his prayer to God. He directly spoke to God about his complaints–just as Job and Jonah had done, and God looked kindly upon them all. In response to Moses’ complaint, God promptly raised no less than seventy prophets from among the Israelites to give him some help. Talk about answered prayers!
The Gospel teaches us even more about what to do when things don’t go well. Our Lord Jesus just heard the devastating– though probably not surprising–news of the brutal death of John the Baptist. He understandably needed to be alone, to pray, to grieve, but here once again came the crowds, hungry for His teachings and, as it turned out, physically hungry as well!
I don’t know about you, but if I were the Lord, I would do some complaining myself: “First, you guys come here pulling me out of my much-needed solitude and interrupting my mourning. But the least you could have done was to bring a packed lunch!” But He said no such thing. And when his disciples, upon His request, could only find five loaves and two fish, He didn’t roll his eyeballs in exasperation and complain to them. What’s more, neither did He complain to God the way Moses, Job, and Jonah had done–even if God really wouldn’t have minded. Instead of wailing and whining, He blessed and broke whatever was before Him. And by blessing and breaking what He had, he was able to feed the five thousand with lots of leftover for take home.
So my dear friends, I think there are two things we can learn from the readings today: If life doesn’t quite go our way, we can wail and whine all we want–as long as we do so to God. He wants to be our own private Wailing Wall. He knows our thoughts and He can read our hearts anyway. We may as well tell Him in our prayers. He seems to like that.
Better still, if we can, let’s do what our Lord did–not just in the Gospel story but all His life. Whatever faced Him, He didn’t wail or whine. Whether pleasant or painful, He blessed it and broke it–the way He did the night He was betrayed, the way He did until His last dying breath on the cross. And each time, God could be counted on to respond with surprising lavishness.