July 31, 2011 - Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Today's Readings

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 we can give us, for free, something better than we can buy with money. God also warns 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.

We are tempted to fill what we lack with inferior products: lust, greed, laziness, gluttony, envy, anger, and pride, but all these will fail to satisfy. A bag of potato chips, the latest gadget, a 10-hour I Love Lucy marathon all fail to satisfy us. For a moment, it seemed as if these sins were what we were looking for, but they only last for a time and we have to seek them out again. These inferior products do not give us a place to rest; they only pacify our desires for a little while. We need the real deal. We were made for God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in him.

We can see the reality of this in the great miracle of the Gospel today. I am not referring to the multiplication of the loaves, although that is nice too. I am referring to the words of the disciples: “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” The disciples, concerned for the well-being of the crowd (and probably for their own stomachs as well), tell Jesus to dismiss the crowd. Now, I understand that manners were different 2000 years ago in Palestine, but I am not ready to believe that 5000 families usually stood listening to a preacher until they starved to death. Most of you would not think of leaving this Church until I say, “The Mass is ended; go in peace”, but, if I stood here and preached until 9 o’clock tonight, I feel sure that the Church would be empty. Manners have their limits.

It is not even as if everyone would have to leave. A few hundred people could have gone to town and brought back wheelbarrows of food. Yet, as long as Jesus kept preaching and healing, no one was willing to leave. These people had found something, something that satisfied them. They came for many reasons, to be healed, to see a prophet, to hear a preacher, but they found the love of Jesus Christ, and they were not willing to give up that love, not even to go get some food.

The love of Christ is free, better than anything else we can get, and the only thing that can really satisfy us anyway. St. Paul gives us another reason why the love of Christ is the best: nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Our stuff can be stolen, and people can break our hearts; our reputations can be destroyed by lies or even the truth, and we can even disappoint ourselves, but not even death can separate us from the love of Christ. If Satan stood here in all his evil power and cunning, he could fool us, he could hurt us, but he could not make Christ stop loving us. Everything we love on this earth could be taken from us by a tornado, but not even a tornado could make Christ stop loving us.

No matter we do or have done to us, no matter how far we think we have run away from God, if we turn around we will find Christ right there. We would have to be fools to seek our happiness in food or TV or on the Internet, and we are fools. We have all often tried to satisfy our need for God with what is not God. Still, the invitation remains: “Come, without paying and without cost, drink wine and milk! Why spend your money for what is not bread; your wages for what fails to satisfy?” Come to God. He wants to give you everything. He is not going to shove it down your throat. He cannot give it to you unless you seek it, and you do want it, even though you do not know your own desires.