"Why do you treat your servant so badly?" Moses asked the LORD. "Why are you so displeased with me that you burden me with all this people? Was it I who conceived all this people?
The readings from the Book of Numbers and the Gospel of Matthew provide a high school religion teacher an excellent assignment for students; they might compare and contrast the stories of Moses and Jesus. Both are set in the wilderness; in both the people act pitifully and somehow expect the prophet to provide for them.
In contrast, where Moses loudly complains about their grumbling Jesus quietly feeds the people with bread and fish. We notice that Jesus' "heart was moved with pity" but Moses pitied himself. I am sure any parent, employer, politician or pastor could sympathize with Moses; no matter what he does he cannot please the people.
They had just escaped four hundred years of slavery in Egypt and had grown accustomed to that ancient institution. Whatever they might have thought about freedom, they were not prepared for it. Thrust upon them, they found it wasn't comfortable. If, as slaves, they had little choice about how they might live their lives, they nonetheless enjoyed a reliable supply of food, shelter and the basic amenities. Archaeological research has shown Egyptian slaves had a pretty good medical system. A government doesn't survive virtually unchanged for three thousand years unless it provides pretty well for everyone's needs.
(In fact, as Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan showed in 1965, the American form of slavery was "indescribably worse than any recorded servitude, ancient or modern." It's no wonder it caused the bloodiest war in American history.)
The Lord and his prophet Moses offered the people freedom but it was qualified. They were eating manna daily, a food which apparently satisfied the minimum daily requirement, but lacked spiritual satisfaction. They wanted meat. They did not know what they were asking.
The Lord would offer "meat" as he died on the cross, the flesh and blood which we share in the Eucharist. His feeding the mob in the wilderness signifies the Sacred Banquet which is about to appear. Even as he took pity on them and cured their sick, he offered his body on the altar of Calvary.
In the light of this story from Numbers, we hear of Jesus' feeding the mob in the wilderness. He is leading us to freedom out of a slavery that seems normal; it's a comfort zone; a familiar culture. It's the way things are, or the way we do things.
Fortunately, our freedom begins in joy as we celebrate our faith with daily prayer.