Saturday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time
At a parish potluck, many people showed up, but few brought food. I heard one of the volunteers say, “We were all asked to bring a dish to pass; so few did! I’m worried that we’re going to run out of food.” The woman serving next to her smiled and said, “Don’t worry, God will provide.” A few minutes later, the first said again, “I’m telling you, this is a problem. The food is running out!” Again, the other said, “God will provide.” A moment later, I heard the first one mutter, “Fine. Don’t listen to me. What do I know?” Sure enough, about ten minutes later, the food ran out. If I had looked, I’ll bet that I could have seen the words, “I told you so!” written all over that woman’s face.
The truth is that, at the time, if you’d asked me, I would have told you that she was right all along. However, as I read today’s gospel, things look a little more complicated. Now, I think both women were right, and both were wrong.
The first one was clearly right about the food running out. But at the same time the other was right to tell her not to worry. Our Lord said as much when he asked, Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life? Of course not! Worry does nothing but contribute to that all-too-human tendency to focus on ourselves: I’m worried; I’m telling you; listen to me; I know; I told you so. Maybe that’s why Jesus counsels us to look at the birds and learn from the way the wild flowers grow; he wants us to shift our focus outward, to look and see that God is in control, and understand how He provides.
This is where the second woman had it wrong. When Jesus said that God feeds the birds, He didn’t mean that God delivers the food to the nest. No, the birds have to go out and get it. In the same way, God provides for us, but that doesn’t mean He will do everything we don’t. We have a part to play in our own salvation, and we have to play it. As St. Augustine once said, “God created us without us, but He will not save us without us.”
So then, what must we do? On the surface, the answer is obvious: We must have faith. The question is, what does it take to have the faith our Lord is asking of us? I think Jesus tells us, if we read between the lines of the gospel reading.
The first thing it takes is humility; specifically, the humility to abandon ourselves to the dominion and will of God. We all know how hard it can be to let go of our own ideas, our own perspective, our own desire for control, especially when it concerns our own destiny. It takes real humility to recognize our limitations; to acknowledge that we can’t see everything, know everything, or do everything. Only God can. When I find myself in that place, trying to control what only God can control, I find it very helpful to repeat over and over that simple but powerful aspiration, “Let go and let God.”
Apart from humility, we must pray for the gifts of patience and fortitude. We might think that as we turn our lives over to God, things will get easier, but often that is not the case, as the book of Sirach reminds us: when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials… Accept whatever happens to you; in periods of humiliation be patient (2:1,4). Again, we all know how hard it is to accept the painful or difficult things that happen, or to endure suffering or humiliation. At those times more than ever we must look to the cross and pray for the patience and fortitude of Christ, for in his cross we find not only the pain of his suffering and humiliation but also the joy of his victory over them, and his promise that, if we follow him, we too will overcome whatever life puts in our way.
Joy is the final word, the fruit of the Spirit whose seed lies hidden in our Lord’s words today. For joy is happiness in pursuit of our good, and as he has just told us, nothing is better than complete abandonment to the God who is goodness itself: the Father, who leaves us nothing to worry about; the Son, who is the Food that never runs out, and the Holy Spirit, the Love that is written all over our hearts.