Whenever I hear the readings for today’s Mass, I’m tempted by the grumbling to be discouraged all over again. In the First Reading, the whole Israelite community grumbled; in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he has to exhort the people not to live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds; and in the Gospel, those who had just eaten of the miraculous multiplication of loaves were taunting Jesus: “What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you? What can you do? Our ancestors ate manna in the desert, as it is written: He gave them bread from Heaven to eat.”
Sigh. And then I remembered.
When my children were little, they would go through periods when all they seemed to know how to do was grumble. Discouragement became my middle name.
But as I read those passages more closely, I began focusing on the responses to the grumbling. Moses and Aaron, in their compassion, interceded for the Israelites, and God provided quail in the evening and manna every morning. God’s response was also mercy and love for his people. When Paul learned of the Ephesians’ bad behavior, rather than washing his hands of them, he taught them in love―strongly worded, yes, but loving. And the response of Jesus to the taunts and grumbling of the crowd was to offer the people living bread: himself. It’s impossible to imagine a stronger love―that the God, who made the universe looked at us with love and gave us his son; and his son, looking at his Father and at us, gives us his life; but before he dies, he gives us bread and wine that becomes himself, so that even though he returned to the Father, he is with us still.
And so, I began to look at my own responses to the grumbling of my children. Not so loving, compassionate, or merciful. In fact, my response was to grumble back at them, which taught them that grumbling was okay. Maybe they even learned it from me in the first place! So. very. not. good.
What was a mother to do? I knelt before the Lord and repented, asking forgiveness for my grumbling and for my poor responses to my children. I prayed for his grace to know how to do better and then for the will to respond to them with joy—to laugh at my children’s grumbling and suggest something fun for us to do together: to dance and sing, to do a craft, to go for a walk to the park.
If the crowd who asked Jesus for a sign had responded to his words appropriately, they would have been filled with joy, knowing they had received the greatest sign and the greatest gift that the world has ever known.
Lord, keep us all from grumbling. Help us to respond with thanksgiving, praise, and joy.