How about Bread?
In the First Reading, God promises Moses and the Israelites a land flowing with mild and honey. We are so used to the description of the land in God’s promise to Moses that it doesn’t mean anything to us anymore. We just hear “landflowingwithmilkandhoney”.
But if we stop to think about it, the land promised is funny.
Milk and honey are no doubt very good things, but the first thing to see about them is that neither one of them is a product of agriculture. You don’t grow milk or honey.
Milk comes from animals, who eat grass, which doesn’t grow as fast as they eat it. So if you are getting milk, you are on the move constantly, getting fresh pasture for the animals. And that means that the honey doesn’t come from bee farms. You can’t both move with the cattle and stay put with the bee hives. The honey of the promised land must then come from wild bee hives. When you find one, you get honey. When you don’t, you don’t.
So the good things of this promised land are not things you get for yourself, by farming. You are dependent on the animals for the milk, which they produce for their offspring, when the offspring can’t feed themselves. And the honey comes to you by chance, when you happen to find it. The milk and honey of the promised land, then, are things that bring home to people their dependence and vulnerability.
And here’s the other thing to notice: you can’t live on milk and honey. Honey is more nearly dessert than dinner. And milk may be the perfect food, in some nutritionist sense; but only babies can live just on milk. Adults need more than milk.
What kind of promised land is this then? You get the good things of it by dependence and chance; and even when you are lucky, you are still missing the main part of what you need to live. What is missing in this promised land is bread.
And so here’s the point. The promised land is worth yearning for. But what we most need to live God reserves to himself to provide. Ultimately, our bread comes from him. In Christ, God himself is our bread.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University