My brothers and sisters – as we read the lesson the Old Testament, and as we read the gospel story today, we are reminded how difficult it is – for us on our earthly pilgrimage – to keep our eyes fixed on the good news of the love that our God has for us.
In the story from the second book of Kings, a man comes to Elisha – the man of God – with an offering of 20 barley loaves. When Elisha tells him to feed the people with it, the man sees 100 people and cannot see how 20 loaves will feed them all. Likewise, in the story from the Gospel according to St. John, Jesus asks Philip, “where can we find enough food to feed the large crowd?” When Philip learns from Andrew that they have only five loaves and two fish, he asks rhetorically, “what good are these for so many?”
In both stories, however, the disciple is obedient to the teacher and does what he asks. And the result of this obedience is an overabundance of blessing. Where there were 100 people and only 20 barley loves, after they had eaten there was some left over. Where there was a crowd of 5,000 and only five barley loaves and two fish, after they had eaten there was enough left over to fill 12 wicker baskets. In the Psalm today, the psalmist sings “the eyes of all look hopefully to you Oh Lord, and you give them their food in due season.”
My brothers and sisters in Christ, God will give us what we need if we do what he asks us to do, if we wait for him, and if we trust in his providence. Our God asks us to look on him and on his plan for creation with eyes of faith.
I think we need to stop here and make the point that “eyes of faith” are not blinders to shield us from reality. Our sense perception is a gift, too. Our ability to reason is itself another gift from God. We should use the gifts God gave us. Our eyes of faith work with our natural eyes in this way: with eyes of faith we can see higher and farther than we can naturally. Our eyes of faith are our supernatural sight. It is how we see the mystery of the sacraments, and it is how we see God’s will in a world riven by sin. Pragmatism or practicality is not bad, but for Christians is it not everything.
The man with the 20 barley loaves in the Old Testament story, and Philip in the gospel reading, looked on the task at hand with eyes of pragmatism – with eyes of reason – and they concluded that the task was impossible. But nothing is impossible for God. We are his beloved children, and if we call upon him, as the Psalm today reminds us, the Lord is near to us.
Each of us – over and over again – will find ourselves in a situation similar to that of Philip. We say we believe, but when faced with practical challenges, we shrink away from the opportunity to see what we face the way God sees what we face. Our eyes are clouded, and we have trouble seeing the generosity of God’s love for us. Through our clouded eyes, we see the range of possible solutions, but our sight is limited to what is possible in a world without God. We have eyes of faith, but we are not using them.
Many times these challenges, these situations, are financial. When we are younger, we look at our monthly bills and we wonder how we are going to pay them and handle something unexpected like a leaky roof. When we are a little bit older, we look at our monthly bills and we wonder how we are going to pay for our children’s education. When we are older still, we look at our retirement savings and we wonder how are we going to pay for our healthcare.
Sometimes these challenges are not financial, but are related to our lives of faith. The newspapers this past month have been filled with stories about an American bishop whose personal life has been scandalous. Many faithful Catholics read the stories, and wonder how we are to trust our bishops and all our clergy when with grim regularity they seem to be in the news for all the wrong reasons.
That we might be concerned and tempted to despair is completely understandable, whether the matter is financial or relates to the church. The question before us is, “what do we do when we face these challenges?” And the readings today encourage us to turn toward the Lord, and to trust in him, rather than to face our challenges alone and without God.
Our bills, our financial position, is always going to be an important matter, but it is ultimately only an earthly matter. We sometimes cannot see our financial position in its proper place and with a proper perspective, just as Philip could not see the 5,000 and the five barley loaves and the two fish as God saw them. God will provide for us if we let him. He will satisfy the desire of every living thing if we let him. He knows, as sometimes we do not, that our deepest desire is not for earthly things like bread, fish, or money, but for peace and justice.
Our bishops, our priests, and our deacons, are always going to be important people in the life of the church, but ultimately they are not the fullness of the church. God has promised to protect his church against the assaults of the Devil, but all the members of the Church are tempted by sin. All the clergy, indeed the whole people of God, are urged to live in a manner worthy of the call that we have received. When one of our brothers or sisters is revealed to be living in a manner unworthy, we need to see them with eyes of faith. We can be angry at the sin, but we cannot let our righteous anger lead us into the sin of wrath. We are urged by St. Paul to try to preserve the unity of spirit through the bond of peace. We cannot do this by our own power, but we can in the power of God.
As we follow our Lord to our ultimate home in heaven with him, we will be persistently tempted by the devil to abandon our trust in the Lord. Satan will whisper into our ears that there isn’t enough bread or fish to feed the crowd before us. Satan will whisper into our ears that the failure of a bishop means the church cannot be trusted. Satan will show us earthly example after earthly example of failure and disappointment. We will be tempted to look at the world through the eyes of the fallen world: nasty, brutish, and short. And it will seem to us that everyone else is looking at it that way.
The discipline of the Christian life my brothers and sisters, is to look at these earthly examples of failure and disappointment with eyes of faith rather than the eyes of the world. We need to look knowing that the Lord is just in all his ways and holy in all his works. We need to look knowing that the Lord is near to all who call upon him. We need to look knowing that the Lord loves us, that the Lord protects us, and that the Lord has saved us.
Let us turn, then, to the Lords table, and offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to our God who feeds us with the true bread of heaven. This bread that we will eat after the prayer of consecration is not barley or wheat, but the bread of life. In the eyes of the world it remains merely bread, but with our eyes of faith we see it as it truly is: the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Jesus Christ.
After receiving our Lord into our own bodies, we are to go out into the world and change it by seeing it through the same eyes of faith, and the same trust in God, that knows that nothing is impossible for God.