Daily Reflection
July 23rd, 2003
Roc O'Connor, S.J.
Theology Department and Campus Ministry
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Exodus 16:1-5, 9-15
Psalm 78:18-19, 23-24, 25-26, 27-28
Matthew 13:1-9

On seeing it, the children of Israel asked one another, "What is this?"
for they did not know what it was.
But Moses told them,
"This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat."
[Exodus 16]

Yet he commanded the skies above
and the doors of heaven he opened;
He rained manna upon them for food
and gave them heavenly bread.
  [Psalm 78]

One of the fun things to know about this passage from the Book of Exodus is that the Hebrew for "What is it?" is "Manna."  Ma(h) means "what?" and na(h) is an intensive.  So, God gave the people "What is it?" from heaven. 

Lots of scholars have tried to figure out what it really was - this hoary residue on the desert that the people were to collect.  I've never heard any really helpful answers to that myself. 

But, let's play with the word for a second: God gave them "What is it?" from heaven.  They didn't know what it was!  They didn't know if it was good for them!

Doesn't that sound like you and me often today?  God gives us "What is it?" a lot of the time it seems.  Stuff happens - "What is it?"  Good things happen - "What is it?" Bad things happen - "What is it?"  It's often a reflection on whatever it is that happened that tells us it was from God. 

So, Psalm 78, the responsorial psalm today, is a theological reflection on Exodus.  "Manna" is now a word itself and it signifies "bread."  Whatever the deuce it was that God gave the people, it was bread according to the psalmist. 

There's this wonderful gem of an exercise that St. Ignatius left us in the Spiritual Exercises - one that I have a time with myself, the Examen.  Or, the Examination of Consciousness.  What's going on in me today that I need to notice?  Where has God been active so that I can be grateful?  Where have I strayed so that I can repent? 

In a way, it's like trying to figure out what the "stuff" of the day is - "What is it?"  Sometimes it is bread and we are well nourished by it.  Sometimes, it's just junk on the lawn that isn't worth my time.  But, the discernment is all:  "What is it?"  Is it manna, or bread?  Is it just white junk on the lawn that needs to be cleared? 

So, as we go along this summer and notice lots of different things that happen to us, we can ask - and answer - with the people of Israel, "What is it?"

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