July 31, 2011 – Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Perhaps it’s the result of mankind’s sinful condition, or perhaps it’s because of the built-in limitation of being creatures. No matter what the cause, humans tend to see mercy and justice as opposed to each other. But that’s not true of God. He’s both just and merciful, without any opposition between them.
This truth is acclaimed in today’s Responsorial Psalm, a portion of Psalm 145: “The Lord is gracious and merciful… The Lord is just in all his ways.” As he sings the praises of the Lord, the psalmist finds no contradiction between these statements.
It’s clear, however, that the readings for this Sunday emphasize God’s goodness and generosity. Through the prophet Isaiah, the Lord invites the hungry and thirsty to come to him. He will give food and drink to them. That’s right. He will give, not sell, grain, wine, and milk. “Come without paying and without cost.”
That prophecy received unexpected fulfillment at the Feeding of the Five Thousand. The evangelists found this so remarkable that it’s the only miracle of Jesus to be recorded in all four Gospels (apart from the Resurrection itself). The narrative shows God’s mercy and compassion. Jesus taught the crowd and healed the sick and fed them because “his heart was moved with pity for them.” Not only was their need for food met, but the divine abundance was demonstrated. Twelve baskets full of leftovers were collected. And Jesus gave them their meal “without paying and without cost.”
Undoubtedly the evangelists were also aware of the Eucharistic significance of this meal. Jesus not only fed the crowd on that one occasion. He continues to feed us as well, and he does so with the best imaginable food and drink, his own Body and Blood. Such a banquet is a gift that would be inconceivable without Jesus’ own teaching about it.
God’s generosity is not limited, however, to food and drink, no matter how wonderful. The protection extended to us, St. Paul writes, means that nothing – no angelic or demonic being, no force or power, not even death itself – can force a separation between us and God’s love for expressed through Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God!
No, nothing can separate us from God – except ourselves, that is. God’s love means that he will respect our free will, no matter how badly we misuse it. God gives us all we have, including life itself. But we are stewards who are responsible to him for our use of all his gifts, our time and talent and treasure. As he said through Isaiah, “Heed me… Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.” If we refuse to heed him, we rush headlong into disaster, spiritual, material, or both.
What we owe the Lord is the response of a grateful heart. In thanksgiving for all we have received, we need to ask his guidance on how we should use these blessings. When we do heed God by following the teaching we know he has revealed, we want to use what we’ve received to his glory. And then we discover the odd economics of the Kingdom of God: when we give, we discover we receive spiritual blessings beyond anything we can imagine.