Marathoners call it “hitting the wall.” It’s that moment in the long race when your energy supply seems to have run out. Emotionally, we know those moments when our reserves have gone dry, when waning hope turns to despair.
Faced with that moment, the children of Israel don’t rise to the challenge. They avoid dealing with their present by dreaming wistfully of the past—and a past that never was! After all, life in Egypt was not cucumbers, melons, and onions. It was the bitterness of mortar and brick. How often in difficult situations do we turn to a distorted nostalgia for “good old days” that never were?
It’s tempting to see Moses failing as well. Yet lament has a long and proper biblical lineage. If God has truly made a covenant, entered into relationship with us, then it is perfectly just for Moses to cry out. The key is how his lament leads him to what the Latin American bishops have called “spiritual poverty”: the recognition that I cannot carry this people (situation) by myself.
Jesus too faces this moment. John, whose baptism he had received, was executed by the authorities. Surely, Jesus feared his own fate. Yet even in a deserted place, the needs of the people pressed upon him. His response? Mercy. Healing. Using the meager resources they had, Jesus and the community around him bless them, share them, and in doing so find the miraculous sustenance that nostalgia ignores. When we hit the wall, our second wind is found in spiritual poverty, mercy, gratitude, and community.