My dear sister (who had previously sent an email whose title inspired the very end of this piece) asked me to write out my speech from this Shabbat for her. So it's thanks to her that I'm able to present it here as well. Working a bit off memory, my d'var Torah basically went as follows:
[I omitted an introduction basically lifted from Everett Fox, who points out that the section starting with last week's parsha (one can argue, even going all the way back to the beginning of Shemot) and continuing almost through the end of Bamidbar can be called "the Rebellion Narratives." They even fall into a pattern- people, Moshe's siblings, people, Moshe's cousins, people, Moshe himself. It's around this point that we wish we could reach back 3300 years, grab the Bnei Yisrael by their collective shoulders, and tell them to "Just stop complaining and go to Israel already!" Of course, they'd probably want to reach forward in time and do and say the same thing to us. In any event, this long chain of events makes the sections described below seem even more out of place. I also, alas, wasn't able to work in Bialik's or R' Tzadok HaKohen's view on the subject.]
Right after the incident with the meraglim, the Torah jumps right into a discussion on Korbanot, beginning with the words "Vehaya KiVoachem El HaAretz." To me, that always seemed a bit odd- after all, Hashem just told them they weren't going to Israel. It's almost like He's rubbing it in, so to speak.
But most meforshim give the explanation that, in fact, Hashem is stating this as a Nechama to the Bnei Yisrael. That is, they are worried that not even their kids will make it- what if they mess up too? Therefore, Hashem promises them, that while they, for a specific reason, have to wander, their kids, will, in fact, make it in and get to offer Korbanot. (The Ibn Ezra gives this explanation after also seeing hints to the Averah throughout the remainder of the parsha; Rashi [in most editions] and the Ramban give it as well.)
In fact, I think we can take this a step further: We can see from this that, in fact, the Bnei Yisrael never really stopped longing for Eretz Yisrael and Mitzvot. After all, why else would this be a comfort for them, unless they are comforted by the idea that someone will go up and fulfill Hashem's word? Sure, they were scared by the meraglim's report, maybe said some stupid things for one night- but as soon as they are told they can't go, they go into Aveilut and many, in fact, try to go up anyway. So we think wrong if we think the Bnei Yisrael weren't, at least deep down and usually much more obviously, interested in doing Ratzon Hashem.
This, of course, helps explain why Yirmiyahu, looking back hundreds of years later, sees the era of the Dor HaMidbar as being one in which the Bnei Yisrael were perfectly with Hashem. And, of course, we're told the Dor HaMidbar was the greatest generation! Sure, we may be distracted by all the negative stories, but that's only a small part of the overall picture. (And note, of course, that the Torah skips over thirty-eight years which presumably passed without incident.)
Finally, the Torah itself hints at this by placing the story of the Mekoshesh right after this section. After all, when we think of the Mekoshesh, we think, immediately, of Tzelafchad, because we all know the Midrash that says they were the same person. And, of course, the one thing we know about Tzelafchad is that his daughters were the greatest and ideal example of love for Eretz Yisrael, "Nashim Chovevot Et HaAretz." So the Torah is showing us that the Bnei Yisrael always loved Eretz Yisrael- and we should remember that even though we usually think of this parsha as the one where the Land is rejected, it is also the parsha that contains the words "Tova HaAretz Meod Meod."