20 You gave your good spirit to teach them.
You didn’t withhold your manna from them,
and you gave them water for their thirst.
21 You kept them alive for forty years—
they lacked nothing in the wilderness!
Their clothes didn’t wear out,
and their feet didn’t swell.
Food, water, clothing, Spirit. The essentials.
On the day that the people rededicated themselves to the Torah after their return from exile in Babylon, their leaders recounted the ways that God had seen them through all their trials – not just in this generation, but in generations past.
In calling the people of Israel back to faithfulness, their leaders recalled God’s faithfulness toward them. Not only had God provided the basics of what their bodies needed – food, water, and clothing – but also the spiritual wisdom to discern the right paths.
People need both. It wasn’t enough to provide for the body. Being without a home for 40 years was surely taxing on the soul. In the New Testament, Jesus reaffirms this idea that physical and spiritual needs are inseparable and equally important: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, NRSV).
A major part of the work of the Church is to help people to be secure in the essentials: the basics everyone needs in order to survive. We feed people, we clothe people, we dig wells in places that are dry.
But it’s important not to overlook the other essential thing: the wisdom and guidance that comes from the Spirit of God. Ok, I know Spirit isn’t capitalized here. But that’s generally an editorial choice. When I read about the “spirit” being “given,” what I hear is that God is showing up among the people to lead, teach, and guide them. Caring is practical, but it’s so much more.
The work of God’s people has never been just about caring for bodies OR caring for souls. It’s always been both.
by Joe Monahan
For Pondering & Prayer
In our own lives of service, most of us gravitate toward either concrete expressions of care or more relational / spiritual / emotional support. Which is more in your wheelhouse? Is there something you might do today to practice a way of caring that is outside your comfort zone?
Prayer: God, we thank you that you have blessed us with your Spirit to lead, guide, and teach us. We thank you for those who have invested in us – caring not only for our physical, but also our spiritual well being. We pray that we might likewise be faithful in caring for those around us just as you have been faithful in caring for us. Amen.