A 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.
I am not advocating for imprudence. It is prudent to pack before starting a journey. It is prudent to consider how you are going to feed yourself on the journey. It is prudent to plan the journey so you can arrive safely. But in all those things, we apply human reason and human sensibility to the matters under consideration.
We absolutely should not do that when we consider the things of God. But so often we do. We put God in a box of our own mental construction. We think what we could do, and we decide God could do no more. Here at Mass in a few minutes, we are going to do and say some things that no purely reasonable and rational person can endorse.
The pure reason heroes of the Enlightenment like Francis Bacon and Immanuel Kant certainly did not endorse what we are about to say and do. For we are about to say that God spoke all creation into existence. The first part of the Nicene Creed says, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.”
Remember the Creation story from the very first verses of the Bible? God said, “Let there be.” And there was. And it was good. We are here alive and able to use our powers of reason and rationality because God created us when he said, “Let us make Man in our image.” We cannot reason to that, but it does not make it any less true or any less powerful.
We believe in the power of God’s Word. A few minutes after the Creed, Father is going to speak the Real Presence into bread and wine. He will call upon the Holy Spirit to bless this offering. He will give thanks, just as Jesus did on the mountain by the Sea of Galilee. And it will happen. And what was once bread and wine will become the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. People who limit themselves to what they can figure out on their own deny the Real Presence, and they miss out on the graces that flow from receiving God in the Holy Eucharist.
If we believe in God’s power and God’s word in the Creed and in the Sacraments, then why do we put any limits on him in any other part of our lives. As the Psalm says, “the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”
Our parish patron saint, St. Catherine of Siena, pointed out the importance of staying in the right relationship with God. In a series of ecstatic visions recorded in the Dialogue, God the Father says to Catherine: “Do you know daughter, who you are and who I am? If you know these two things you have beatitude (this is another word for blessedness) in your grasp. You are she who is not, I AM HE WHO IS.”
The Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.
St. Catherine did not put her conception of God in a box of her own making; she opened her heart and her mind to the reality of God. To do this, we must repent and convert, even daily. The Greeks used the word “Mind” and the Hebrews used the word “Heart” and we might in English use the word “Gut” for the deepest source of knowledge. When St. Paul writes his letters to the Greek churches, he uses the word “metanoia” for repentance, and that Greek word means a changed mind, and the prophet Ezekiel preaching repentance more than once promised God would take away our stony hearts and give us new hearts. All these words are exactly what St. Catherine heard in her Dialogue with the Father: if we know in our innermost, our deepest place, that God truly Is and we are his sons and daughters, then we will know true peace that comes from trusting the Lord who is just in all his ways and holy in all his works, that he is near to all who call upon him in truth.
When we finally accept the gift of this understanding, our lives are transformed. Our secular lives have suddenly become simpler, for we do our daily tasks confident that God will give the eyes of all their food in due season. When we have 5,000 hungry people, we know somehow the mysterious power of God will direct our actions when we call upon him: he will open his hand and satisfy the desire of these living things. When we hear words of doubt, we will remember St. Catherine’s dialog and say, “I am he who is not, He is He Who Is.”
Let us put on a new mind, let us trade in our stony hearts for real hearts. Let us meet God on his terms rather than insisting on our terms. Let us live in a manner worthy of the call we have received, knowing that the Lord is near to all who call upon him in truth.