Don’t Put God in a Box

P1000085A fundamental challenge for all of us who call ourselves Christians is the tendency to put limits on God when what he wants is for us to depend on him in everything and at all times. From the Old Testament reading today we see that a man brought 20 barley loaves made from the first fruits. Remember that the first-fruits are what we’re supposed to offer to God rather than to give him whatever is left over after we have taken care of ourselves. First fruits is about fitting our possessions around God rather than fitting Him around them. So, a man brings 20 barley loves made from the first fruits, and Elisha says, “Give it to the people to eat.” But the servant objects. He asks, “how can I set this before a hundred people?”

The Gospel reading today is the beginning of the sixth chapter in John’s gospel. This is the scene just before the famous bread of life discourse, in which Jesus scandalizes the Devout Jews in the crowd when he tells them that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood or they have no part in him. But before he scandalizes them, he feeds them. And again, just like in the Old Testament scene with Elisha, the disciples deny the majesty and Providence of our God. When tested about how to feed such a large crowd, the disciple Philip complains that even 100 days wages would not be enough for each of them to have even a little. A quick inventory reveals that they have only five barley loaves and two fish. Another disciple, Andrew this time, asks but what good are these for so many?

You know, the questions that the disciples and the servants ask in the stories from the scriptures are all perfectly rational and perfectly reasonable. And I think that is precisely the problem. A disciple of Jesus Christ must dare to look beyond what is perfectly rational and perfectly reasonable. The Psalm that we just sang reflects the attitude God wants us to have: We sang, “the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.” One of the verses we read is sometimes used as a prayer before meals: The eyes of all look upon you O Lord and you give them their food in due season.

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