As you know, I lead a team of people every year to Peru on mission (except of course during the coronavirus years). We go to the poorest people in the country and distribute food, clothing, educational materials, and Bibles, all the fruit of the generosity of people like yourselves who contribute to the mission, especially through our annual fund-raisers. Our very first fund-raiser was held several years ago in a church hall, and we planned it on a grand scale, with a few hundred guests, including the Peruvian ambassador and members of the South American community in Ottawa. We had arranged a special meal to be provided, buffet style, and laid on special music and dance.
Unfortunately, we failed to take into account the generosity of the South American spirit, and found to our dismay, that many people had invited friends and family along to the occasion, without telling us in advance. With the result that we found ourselves in the middle of the meal, rapidly running out of food. We tried rationing out what was left, but that wasn’t working, and I wanted to go away and hide somewhere in shame. But as I was helping to serve the food, I couldn’t do that, so I carried on mechanically, waiting for the moment when a guest would come up for food, and I would not have anything to give them. You know what, brothers and sisters, that moment never came. Simply put, God kept multiplying the food, until we had served everyone at the table, and still had food over to feed the helpers. I think it was only after everyone had left at the end, and we were taking stock of it all, that we realized we had been witnesses to a bona-fide miracle of God’s provision, not quite on the scale of Jesus’ feeding of the 5000 in today’s gospel, perhaps, but well up there with the story of Elisha and his feeding of a hundred people with 20 barley loaves in our first reading.
We are well used to reading these miracles in the Bible, but often don’t realize that God who is the same, yesterday, today and forever, is still providing for the needs of his people today. I am sure you have similar stories to tell, of how, during financial, material, or other kinds of need, when you were at the point of desperation, God intervened and arranged for your need to be met in a totally unexpected way.
There is a video called “Miracle at El Paso”, a true story of a prayer group in a parish on the Texas side of the border with Mexico, who decided one Christmas, in 1962, to share their Christmas dinner with the people they could see scavenging on the garbage heap just across the border. So this is what they did, only to find that word got out around the area that this group was serving free food, and you can guess what happened, hundreds of people came running from all over the place, and there was simply no way that prayer group could feed them all. In fact, the pastor of the parish, Fr Rick Thomas, realizing what was happening, walked away sick at heart at having to disappoint all these hungry people. Suddenly, members of his prayer group were coming up to him, wild with excitement, to tell this astonished priest that the food was multiplying before their very eyes. I remember Fr Rick Thomas coming to Lift Jesus Higher a few years ago, to tell us the story, and I could still hear the wonder and delight in his words.
We have a great big God, brothers and sisters, who loves to be put to the test to show how prodigious his ability to provide really is. The trouble is not with His giving, but with our asking, asking in faith and trust. And with our willingness to make some sort of service, and of sacrifice ourselves. Experience shows, backed up by Scripture, that if we are going forward to offer service to the poor and needy from our own resources, then God will always come to meet us in our finiteness and limitations of those resources and transform those small offerings into something greater. Look at our first reading, where the man brings forward some barley loaves in a time of famine in the land, which were simply not enough to feed a hundred people. Elisha tells the man to go ahead and serve the bread, and everyone got fed, and there was bread left over. That small example, of course, pales into insignificance, compared with the gospel story, where Jesus directly feeds five thousand men (but imagine how many there were, when you count the women and children!) with five loaves and two fish, offered up by a boy. That boy was probably looking forward to his lunch, but gladly gave up the food for others. And there were twelve baskets of fragments left over.
Why do we so often fail to ask, or to expect, and therefore fail to see, such miracles of Gods’ providence? Because of our little faith – a lack of faith and trust in God’s ability and desire to satisfy his people’s needs. How often does Jesus have to chide his disciples for being people of “little faith”. You may find this hard to believe, but go to Mark’s gospel, chapter 8, and Matthew’s gospel, chapter 15, and you will read there how , a short while after Jesus does the miracle of feeding of the 5000, he is in a similar situation, where he has to feed 4000 people, with very little food, and once again , the disciples are asking him how on earth are they going to feed all these people , despite having seen Jesus do exactly that a short while before ! But aren’t we just like that, brothers and sisters? I mean, at least I know I am. Time and again I see God stepping in and performing a miracle in my moment of need, and yet when another circumstance of need arises, I start in doubting whether God will do it again. So often, we doubt another miracle. And that is because we don’t know God, we know about him, but we don’t know him, we don’t have a personal relationship with him, we don’t know the stretch of his arm, or the depth of his love for us.
There is a poem I read once; it goes like this. “Two men looked out through prison bars. One looked down at the mud, the other looked up at the stars”. I can tell you this, brothers and sisters, that the one who looked down at the mud would have been a pessimist – all he could see in his life was dirt. But the other man would have been an optimist – he could look up at the mighty heavens, and know that God created them, and was therefore a God of incredible might and power. He would have believed that this God had created everything there is, in heavens and earth for our benefit.
So, which are you, brothers and sisters, which am I? A person who looks down at the ground around me, and can only see through a narrow and limited basis, which we define as reality? Or one who looks up at the stars, and beholds the splendor and vastness of the heavens, and allows our hopes and desires to be defined instead by this reality, and the truth that all this is the work of a God who is personal and caring. A God who came down to our limited earth as a human being in Jesus Christ, to lift us up to the heavens, to the divine realities. As St Augustine wrote so memorably: “In Jesus, God became man, so that, in Jesus, man might become God”.
I have been noting more and more recently, that so many social commentators and intellectuals have taken to writing the word God, with a small g, rather than a capital G. It is a measure of how little they think of, or expect from God. Such people are more likely to talk of Mankind, with a capital M rather than a small m. They seem unaware that what they are doing are looking out from prison bars, down to the ground, rather than up to the stars. Let us not be drawn into such a wretched, pathetic narrowness of outlook, brothers, and sisters. Let us continue to soak ourselves in the Scriptures and Church Tradition, that will keep us looking up, not down, let us finish with one of those Scriptures, psalm 8:
”O Lord, sovereign God, how majestic is your name in all the earth!/ When I look at the heavens, the work of your hands, the moon and the stars that you have established/what are we human beings that you mindful of us, mere mortals that you care for us ?/ Yet you have made us a little lower than angels, and crowned us with glory and honor/and put all things under our feet/O Lord, Sovereign God, how majestic is your name in all the earth”