18th Sunday O T Year – A
Is.55:1-3; Rom.8:35, 37-39; Matt.14:13-21
According to an Indian fable, the Lord Vishnu said once to his devotee: “I am weary of your never-ending petitions. I shall grant you three requests. Make sure you chose them carefully because having granted them, I shall grant you nothing more.” The elated devotee did not hesitate to request: “Here is my first request,” He said, “I want my wife to die so I can marry a better woman.” His wish was immediately granted.
But when friends and relatives gathered for the funeral and began to recall the virtues of his wife, the devotee saw he had been hasty. So he asked the Lord Vishnu to bring her back to life. That left him with just one more petition. He consulted wildly. Some advised him to ask for immortality. But what good was immortality, said others, if he did not have a good health?
And health if he had no money? And money if he had no friends? The devotee was so confused that finally asked the Lord Vishnu himself: “Tell me what to ask for.” The Lord Vishnu laughed and said: “Ask to be content, no matter what you get.” Of course we can never be contended by bread alone nor by beer, nor by television, nor by cars, nor by balanced budget but by every word that comes from God.
Our reading today from Isaiah tells us three reasons why it is better to get what we need from the providence of God than to try to grasp after it ourselves. First of all, it is free. Second, it is better. Third, it is complete. God tells us that he will give us for free. “Come, without paying and without cost,” he says.
This is a good deal. God also tells us that he will not just cover our basic needs. He is not only serving bread but “wine and milk” and “rich fare”. This is a very good deal. Usually, when you get something free, you get what you pay for, but God says that he can give us, for free, something better than we can buy with money.
God also cautions us that when we try to buy our happiness, it “fails to satisfy”. This is because we do not even know what we really want, but God does know. He can fulfill desires that we never even knew we had. What great promises! We would be fools not to take God up on this offer.
Except…. In the psalm today, we repeated, “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” This is great news, but is it true? We are told, “He answers all our needs”, but does he? Where is it? Where is this great, free, perfect satisfaction that we have been promised? This seems to be another case where the reality fails to live up to the advertisement.
Of course, it is about 95% true. Consider all those things that if you were suddenly lacking you would desperately want: life, oxygen, health, use of your body, water, food, safety. It is easy to miss the many ways that God does provide for our lives every day, in each moment of every day. We really do not notice the providence of God. We only notice the other 5%. Parents know what I am talking about. Your children do not notice that you do their laundry, feed them, and give them a place to live. If you stopped doing their laundry, if you stopped providing food, if you stopped paying the electric bill, they would suddenly become very aware of what you were not doing for them.
But what of this other 5%? The psalm promised that God would provide all of our needs. What is left over, what God is not providing, is also for our benefit. We would be ungrateful spoiled brats if we never knew what it was to need something. Isaiah, in the midst of the advertisement, repeats over and over again: “Come.” God has come almost all the way to us, but the other 5% is our room to come to God. So what should we do?
The first thing we need to do is to seek the Lord in quiet times of prayer. We should take seriously God’s invitation to be fed by him. He will never withdraw His invitation. He offers himself to us, especially here in Holy Communion, but nothing will happen unless and until we respond. Just how have we actually and truly responded to His invitation to us?
To do this we have to turn off our cell phones, our I-pods, and all of our electronic gadgets that fill us up with nothing but noise. Are we afraid of silence? Are we afraid that we will have nothing to say to God in our moments of prayer? Are we afraid that God will have nothing to say to us? Just why don’t we pray? Are we simply too busy or, on a deeper level, do we fear the silence of prayer? Perhaps our prayers are filled with too much self-accusation, and so, in our shame, we avoid being close to God. But God offers Himself to us in the midst of our failures and sins.
Apart from prayer, what about some moments of thoughtful self-reflection? Summertime provides us with opportunities to see mountains, or rivers, or lakes, and to contemplate the beauties of nature. But, wonderful as all that may be, it’s all outside of ourselves. If we are to nourish our hearts and souls, we need to take a look at what’s inside ourselves instead of focusing on all that’s outside and around us.
If we don’t have times of self-reflection we will really hunger and thirst. We live in lives of plenty of distractions only to discover that they do not satisfy our real hunger. Summer gives us chances to share ourselves with others and to let others share themselves with us. Are we willing to admit that we have needs, hungers, and thirsts?
Are we willing to admit that we are dependent on others to nourish our hearts and souls? It’s wonderful and it’s good to be self-sufficient and self-sustaining, but too much of that will leave us with nothing, and then we will truly hunger and thirst.
Finally, we need to ask ourselves: “What really sustains us? What is our true sustenance? Just what sort of food is feeding us? Junk food? Food that doesn’t nourish us? Are our bodies bloated and fat while our souls are lean and hungry? Why should we go on living in spiritual starvation?
And today, do not leave this Mass thinking you have nothing to give others. Do not think you have nothing to give them in order that they might overcome their hunger and thirst. Jesus is here to give you the Bread of Life, not so that you can keep it all to yourselves but so that you can feed countless numbers of those around you who are looking for the same thing you are:
A life of meaning and purpose, a life lived in the closeness of God. After all, He is the one who will do the feeding. All we have to do is, share His food – His tender loving mercies, His presence, and His love. If you don’t, those in the world around you will continue to starve. Amen.