The Father provides for His followers

  • July 13, 2011

18th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A) July 31 (Isaiah 55:1-3; Psalm 145; Romans 8:35, 37-39; Matthew 14:13-21)

During hard economic times people usually take a long hard look at their spending habits. Under pressure many things suddenly seem unnecessary, even frivolous, and decisions have to be made: What is really important?

Isaiah wonders at the money people are willing to throw away on relatively worthless things that do not even satisfy. In our own time we might look at the multi-billion dollar industry aimed at making people feel better about their appearance or happier and more content. Isaiah has good news: God has far more valuable gifts than anything we can imagine and they are free. He uses the basic symbol of life — water — and invites all who are thirsty to quench their thirst. It is the same image the Gospel of John uses for the living water (Spirit) that Jesus grants to His followers. But there is more: wine, milk and rich food, again without cost. These are the symbols of the God of Israel as provider and sustainer. They encourage the people to trust in God and not give in to fear.

We can become captivated by the bad spirit that always screams, “More!” The Spirit of God, on the other hand, is the spirit that whispers reassuringly, “Enough!” This spirit also bestows on us a feeling of well-being and gratitude despite whatever struggles may come our way. A covenant or relationship with God is never richer or more satisfying than during “hard times.”

Some of the most potent criticisms atheists and others level at belief in God concern suffering. Where was God during the earthquake, tsunami, fire, flood or war? Why would a good God permit such a thing? Why doesn’t God prevent it if in fact God exists? These criticisms are in part fed by naïve attitudes of some Christians. Disasters must be “God’s will,” there must be some higher purpose, etc. But when we examine the texts carefully they never promise an easy life or one in which bad things never happen to good people. Being a member of a faith community is not a magic talisman to ward off pain or suffering. But the word of God does promise that there is no power in the universe that can separate us from the love of God and from Jesus Christ. Returning to the question of where God is during tragedy and disaster we can be certain God is present. God is suffering with the victims and regardless of what happens they are always held in God’s infinite love.

When Jesus heard of the murder of his friend and spiritual mentor he felt the need for solitude. He probably wanted to pray and mourn. But it was not to be. People were desperate and Jesus was the most hopeful sign they had ever seen. They flocked to Him and nearly overwhelmed Him with their pain. As usual His response was compassion and He tended to their needs. But towards the end of the day the pressing need to feed the crowd became acute. Jesus challenged His disciples to feed the crowd themselves. He wanted to see if they understood what He had been teaching. They hadn’t. They could only focus on the lack for they had only five loaves and two fish. But when Jesus blessed the food and distributed it there was not only enough but plenty left over.

We need not resort to superficial explanations such as “they shared what they had” to explain the superabundance. Compassion and love are powerful forces in their own right but when they are joined with a mind and heart that are in complete harmony with God the power is astounding.  There is enough for everyone on the Earth — that is what God intends — but at the same time human fear and selfishness prevent this from becoming fully actualized. Jesus demonstrates that God is indeed the sustainer and provider but can only be so fully when compassionate people extend their hearts to others and their minds to God.