Pentecost - Sixth Sunday After (14 Sunday in Ordinary Time)
"Confidence in God's Providence"
By Rev. Ferdinand Heckmann, O.F.M.
In the miracle related in to-day's Gospel, our Divine Savior teaches us an all-important lesson. A great multitude, so we read, had followed Him for three days even into a wilderness. Forgetful of the things of earth, of their temporal affairs, and even of the needs of the body, they were wholly intent upon listening to the words of power and grace that fell from His lips. For, as St. Matthew tells us, "The people were in admiration at his doctrine. For he was teaching them as one having power, and not as the scribes and Pharisees" (Matt. vii, 28-29). Such devotion to Him touched the compassionate heart of Jesus. And "calling his disciples together, He said to them: 'I have compassion on the multitude, for behold they have now been with me three days and have nothing to eat. And if I shall send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way; for some of them came from afar off.' And his disciples answered him: 'From whence can any one fill them here with bread in the wilderness?'" (Mark vii, 1-4). A peculiar and astonishing question on the part of the disciples who should by this time have learned in the school of Christ that in all needs we can and must have a firm trust in God's providence and His omnipotent power. They had witnessed on another occasion how their Divine Master fed five thousand men besides the women and children in a miraculous manner. They had seen with their own eyes how with one word He raised the dead to life, restored speech to the dumb and hearing to the deaf, and performed many other miracles, thus manifesting His Divinity and almighty power, that with Him nothing is impossible. How could they doubtingly ask: "From whence can any one fill them here with bread in the wilderness?" They knew from the history of their own people how almighty God during the space of forty years had fed the immense multitude of Israelites on their journey through the desert with a miraculous bread which every morning fell from heaven. If they had recalled all this to their minds, how could they have doubted that their Divine Master was able to feed this comparatively small multitude with seven loaves and a few fishes? The Apostles at that time sadly lacked, what is often sadly lacking to many Christians, namely, a lively faith in God's omnipotent power and a firm trust in His providence.
Let us than consider the reason why we should have always a firm confidence and trust in God's providence.
No article of our holy faith is more clearly revealed in Holy Writ, more expressly proposed to our belief by our holy Mother, the Church, and more consonant with right reason than the article which commands us to believe that the all-knowing, all-powerful and all-wise God who created this world rules and regulates every thing in this world according to the unchangeable decrees of His Divine Providence; that this Divine Providence watches over every man and fills with blessings every living creature, so that they will lack nothing if they only have a firm confidence in Him and fulfill the purpose for which they were created, which is to know God, to love Him and to serve Him in this world.
In whom could we and should we place a greater confidence than in Him who has a perfect knowledge of our wants and necessities, who has the power to relieve them and whose goodness and love for us assures us that He will relieve them. Now God perfectly knows everything that concerns us and what is necessary for us. "All things," says St. Paul, "are naked and open to his eyes" (Heb. iv, 13). "He cares for each one in particular," says St. Augustine, "as if He were occupied with him alone, and He cares for the whole world as He would for one individual." Nothing is so small and insignificant as to exclude it from His care and providence. "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing?" says our Divine Savior, "and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore; better are you than many sparrows" (Matt. x, 29-31). If God then cares for the least things that to our mind seem of no importance whatever, how much more careful will He not be of us who were made to know love and possess Him for all eternity. We can truly say with David: "I am a beggar and poor; the Lord is careful of me: (Ps. xxxix, 18).
God knows the needs of His own creatures, and from the beginning of the world has cared and provided for them. Before He formed man out of the slime of the earth He created all things necessary for his sustenance and comfort. "Behold," said God to our first parents, "I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of heir own kind, to be your meat; and to all the beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon" (I. Mos. i, 29, 30). After the flood God said to Noah: "Everything that moves and lives shall be meat for you; even as the green herbs have I delivered all to you" (I. Mos. ix, 3). For the aid and comfort of His chosen people He sent Joseph into Egypt that during the seven years of plenty he might provide for the seven years of famine. "Be not afraid," said Joseph to his trembling brethren, "and let it not seem to you a hard case that you have sold me into these countries, for God sent me before you in Egypt that you may be preserved upon the earth and may have food to live" (I. Mos. xiv, 5, 7).
For forty years He provided for the needs of the people of Israel in their journey through the desert. When they lacked water He commanded Moses to strike a rock "and gave them to drink, as out of the great deep. He brought forth water out of the rock, and made streams run down as rivers" (Ps. 1xxvii, 15, 16). When they doubtingly asked: "Can God furnish a table in the wilderness? Because he struck the rock, and the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed. Can he also give bread, and provide a table for his people?" God "commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven. And He rained manna upon them to eat, and had given them the bread of heaven, and sent them provisions in abundance. And He rained upon them flesh as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea. So they did eat, and were filled exceedingly, and He gave them their desire; they were not defrauded of that which they crave" (Ps. lxxvii, 15, 16, 19-30).
When God commanded the prophet Elias to flee before the wrath of Ahab, to whom in punishment for his idolatry he had predicted that neither rain nor dew would fall upon the earth for three years, and hide himself by the torrent of Carith, He said to him: "There thou shall drink of the torrent: and I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there. And the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening, and he drank of the torrent. But after some time, the torrent was dried up, for it hath not rained upon the earth. Then the world of the Lord came to him, saying; 'Arise and go to Sarephta of the Sidonians, and dwell there; for I have commanded a widow woman there to feed thee.' He rose and went to Sarephta. And when he was come to the gate of the city he saw the widow woman gathering sticks, and he called to her and said to her: 'Give me a little water in a vessel, that I may drink.' And she answered: 'As the Lord thy God lives, I have no bread, but only a handful of meal in a pot, and a little oil in a cruse; behold I am gathering two sticks that I may go in and dress it, for me and my son, that we may eat it and die.' And Elias said to her: 'Fear not, but go and do as thou hast said; but first make for me of the same meal a little hearth cake and bring it to me; and after make for thyself and thy son. For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The pot of meal shall not waste, nor the cruse of oil be diminished, until the day wherein the Lord will give rain upon the face of the earth.' She went and did according to the word of Elias; and he ate, and she, and her house, and from that day the pot of meal wasted not, and cruse of oil was not diminished, according to the Word of the Lord, which He spoke in the land of Elias" (III. Kings xvcii, 3-17).
When the prophet Daniel was confined for six days in a den of lions at the instigation of the Babylonian priests, and angel of the Lord commanded the prophet Habakkuk to carry the dinner which he was bringing to the reapers in the field to Daniel in Babylon. And when the prophet answered: "Lord, I never saw Babylon, nor do I know the den," the angel of the Lord took him by the top of his head and carried him by the hair of his head, and set him in Babylon over the den in the force of his spirit. And Habakkuk cried, saying: "O Daniel, thou servant of God, take the dinner that God hath sent thee." And Daniel said: "Thou hast remembered me, O Lord, thou hast not forsaken them that love Thee" (Dan. xiv, 34-37).
In the New Testament God has shown the same merciful care of His own, because in great need He has provided for them even in a miraculous manner, as is attested by the lives of the saints. Truly had David said: "Trust in the Lord, and do good, and dwell in the land, and thou shall be fed with its riches. Delight in the Lord, and he will give thee the requests of thy heart. Commit they way to the Lord, and he will do it. I have been young, and now am old; and I have not seen the just forsaken, nor his seed seeking bread" (Ps. xxxvi, 3-6, 25).
God knows our needs before we are aware of them. According to the Gospel story our Divine Savior knew that the people were in want of the necessary food; they had not to ask him to provide for their needs. Therefore, "calling His disciples together, He said to them: 'I have compassion on the multitude, for they have now been with me three days, and have nothing to eat. And if I shall send them away fasting to their home, they will faint in the way; for some of them came from afar off.'" How beautifully did Jesus here show Himself as the true Son and image of Him of whom He says: "Be not solicitous saying: 'What shall we eat,' or 'what shall we drink,' or wherewith shall we be clothed?' For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knows that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God, and His justice, i.e., His love, grace and friendship, and all these things shall be added unto you: (Matt. vi, 31-33). "And when you are praying, speak not much, as the heathens. For they think that in much speaking they may be heard. Be you not therefore like to them, for your Father knows what is needful for you, before you ask Him" (Matt. vi, 7,8).
When our Lord visited he two sisters, Martha and Mary, the former was busy concerning the things of the body, how she might entertain her Guest, while Mary sat at the Lord's feet listening to the words of life that fell from His lips. And Martha said to Jesus: "Lord, hast Thou no care that my sister hath left me alone to serve? Speak to her therefore, that she help me." And the Lord, answering, said to her: "Martha, Martha, thou art careful, and art troubled about many things; but one thing is necessary," and that one thing is the salvation of our soul. We are created for one thing; we are bidden to seek one thing; and we often seek everything else but that. The thoughts that burn within us are often not the thoughts of God and heaven, but thoughts of our earthly success and possessions. We are often too solicitous for the things of earth and of amassing transitory riches to the detriment of our eternal salvation. Man consists of a body and a soul, and he must labor for the preservation and salvation of both, for the Scripture says: "In the sweat of thy brow shall thou eat they bread until thou return to the earth, out of which you were taken" (I. Gen. iii, 19). God therefore demands that we should faithfully labor for the things we stand in need of, for, says the Apostle: "If any man will not work, neither let him eat." But this care and labor for the things of the body must be secondary and subordinate to the care and labor for the salvation of our soul. "Having food and wherewith to be covered, with these we should be content," says the Apostle. "For they that will become rich fall into temptation, and into the snare of the devil, and into many unprofitable and hurtful desires, which drown men into destruction and perdition. For the desire of money is the root of all evils" (I. Tim. vi, 8,9). Our Lord warns us against this too great solicitude for the things of earth when He says: "You cannot serve God and mammon." And He said this to the Pharisees who were covetous, and they derided Him. "Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat, and the body more than the raiment? God has created our body and soul, and in their union consists our present life. For the preservation of this life we need food, shelter and clothing. Now, if God has given us this life, how can we in any way doubt that He will also give us the things necessary for its preservation? He who has given us the greater, our life, will certainly also give the less, the things necessary for its preservation. "The eyes of all hope in Thee, O Lord; and Thou give them meat in due season," says the royal prophet. "Thou open Thy hand and fill with blessing every living creature" (Ps. cxliv, 15, 16). And in order to inspire us with greater confidence, our Divine Savior calls our attention to God's solicitude and care for His other creatures. "Behold the birds of the air," He says, "for they neither now, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns, and your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you of much more value than they?" If God, then provides all things needful for the birds of the air because He has created them, with how much more reason will He not do the same for man, created to Him image and likeness, and redeemed by the precious Blood of His only Son. "And which of you by taking thought," our Divine Savior adds, "can add to his stature one cubit. If then you be not able to do so much as the lest thing, why are you solicitous for the rest? And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they labor not, neither do they spin. But I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is to-day, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe, how much more you, O ye of little faith?" (Matt. vi, 26-31).
God, therefore, not only know our needs, but His goodness will also relieve them. "He is rich unto all that call upon Him.: "Christ did not say," says St. John Chrysostom, "God knoweth, but your Father knoweth, so as to encourage men to have greater confidence in Him. For if He is our Father, He cannot disregard the needs of His children. For what father would allow his children to be in want even of necessaries if he is able to provide them?" "Ask and it shall be given to you," says our Divine Savior. "For every one that asks receives. Or what man is there among you of whom, if his son shall ask bread, will reach him a stone? Or if he shall ask for a fish, will he reach him a serpent? If you then being evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him: (Matt. vii, 7-11). "Can a woman," says God by the prophet Isaias, "forget her infant, so as not to have pity on the son of her womb? And if she should forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold, I have graven thee in My hand" (Is. xiv, 15, 16). So great is the fatherly and more than motherly care and solicitude of God for us, His children.
If, the, God our Creator and loving Father watches with a tender care and solicitude over all His creatures and provides for their needs, what reason have we not to abandon ourselves with childlike confidence to His providence. Everything in our life depends upon His blessing, and therefore does the Apostle say: "Neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth, but God that giveth the increase" (I. Cor. iii, 7). How useless for us and injurious to God are our excessive cares, anxieties and fears, our desperate efforts to provide everything that concerns our bodies, our earthly lives, our state and welfare, as if there were no one in the world to take care of us but ourselves, as if there were neither a God nor Providence to look after us. "Cast all your care upon him," St. Peter admonishes us, "for he hath care of you" (I. Pet. v,7). Our chief care should be to lead a good and Christian life; to observe the commandments of God; to use a moderate and diligent care in regard to the acquirement of temporal things; to have recourse to God in all needs with a firm assurance that nothing will then be wanting to us. Christ has promised this when He said: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his justice, and all these things will be added unto you."