Proper 21B/Ordinary 26B/Pentecost 18
September 30, 2012
There are few languages more fun than Yiddish. Yiddish was – and in some regions still is – spoken by European Jews descended from the German Ashkenazi tribe. It’s a very colorful mish-mash of German, Slavic, Hebrew, and a couple other things thrown in. One of my favorite Yiddish words is kvetch, which means “to complain”. It can also mean a person who complains excessively – a kvetch. It is wonderfully onomotopoetic – it sounds exactly like what it means.
And there are few people who could kvetch better than the ancient Israelites. The books of Exodus and Numbers are filled with the Israelites’ kvetching in the desert after they were brought up out of Egypt and rescued by the Egyptian army by the prophet Moses and the might of YHWH. They were rescued from certain starvation by the miracle of the Manna in the desert, and what do they do? They complain about the food: “”The rabble among them had a strong craving; and the Israelites also wept again, and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we used to eat in Egypt for nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic; but now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at'” (Num 11:4-6).
After he has had enough of the kvetching, Moses turns to YHWH and does some industrial-strength kvetching himself: “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? Did I conceive all this people? Did I give birth to them, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a sucking child,’ to the land that you promised on oath to their ancestors?” (vv.11-12). Ouch! This is not exactly the conversation you would imagine a prophet having with the author of the universe and the Lord of life and death.
YHWH, however, hears Moses and provides relief for his burn-out by delegating – somewhat: “So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again” (vv.24-25). The Lord also hears the complaints of the Israelites, saying “Therefore the Lord will give you meat, and you shall eat. You shall eat not only one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month—until it comes out of your nostrils and becomes loathsome to you … ” (vv.18-20). You want meat?? I’ll give you meat! The Lord then sends a wind to the camp, bringing quails from the sea, falling out of the sky “about two cubits deep on the ground” (!!) (vv.31).
So when people kvetch, YHWH provides. This pattern repeats throughout the books of Exodus and Numbers. The Israelites kvetch that they have no water, so YHWH provides water from a rock (Exod 17:1-7). The Israelites kvetch that they are starving, so YHWH sends manna from heaven (Exod 16:1-31). And whenever the people kvetch, Moses is sure to kvetch to the Divine in turn. If kvetching in faith is such a central feature of the Hebrew Bible, then why do so many people feel that there is no room for kvetching in the Church today? A poll from the Leadership Journal cited as one of the top reasons that young people leave church that “The church is not a safe place to express doubts say over one-third of young people, and one-fourth have serious doubts they’d like to discuss.”
If we cannot bring our kvetching and our doubts to church, then where can we bring them? To the pool halls? The hoochie bars? If we are to make room for God’s children, we have to make room for them (and us) as whole people – kvetching, doubts and all. It’s all very well and good to say “God is good all the time!” … but God does not necessarily feel good all the time.
When we kvetch in faith, we are doing the Lord the favor of going to the Lord first with our troubles. God wants to hear. So have a good kvetch with God today – you might be surprised at what happens.