Sunday: We Are God’s Waiters

We learn a lot about God’s “personality” in today’s Gospel  (the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B) about the multiplication of the loaves — and what he expects of us.

1. God notices our needs.

We get accustomed to thinking of God as the guy we turn to for wise spiritual lessons and big moral questions. We may even tell him we need something once in a while — when our back is against a wall and we can’t get it on our own.

We fall easily into the trap of assuming he is an add-on to our lives — real-life stuff like dinner is up to us.

In the Gospel, Jesus is the one who realizes that the crowd needs to eat — and provides. “The hand of the Lord feeds us,” as the Psalm puts it, “he answers all our needs.”

The same thing happens in the first reading: God has a greater interest in our needs than even we do. But his interest isn’t in satisfying our desires, so much as it is in transforming them.

There is a tension here between poverty and plenty. As St. John Paul II put it in Peru in 1983 “I wish that you may no longer be hungry for bread, but that you may still be hungry for God.” This, apparently, is God’s wish too.

2. God is a “make-too-much” host.

We have all seen two modes in hosting others.

First, there are those who never seem to make quite enough to go around. This is what we are dealing with at a family dinner party where mom whispers “Family hold back” to the kids as she notices the meatballs disappearing. There is a lot that is good about this: It teaches self-discipline and a spirit of poverty.

Second, there are those who seem to always make more than you can quite finish. We see this when the Thanksgiving leftovers go in the refrigerator and feed the family throughout the long weekend. This is probably a good thing when it follows a feast, but a bad thing when it leads to waste.

God is definitely that second kind of host, in the good kind of way. This is clear in the Gospel. But it’s clear in the first reading, too: “For thus says the Lord,” as the first reading puts it, “‘They shall eat, and there shall be some left over!’”

3. We are God’s waiters.

We know the concept that we are spiritual envoys of God, bearing his message. But today’s readings drive home that we’re also God’s waiters, bringing his food.

When God multiplies barley loaves in the first reading, he doesn’t distribute them like the manna in the desert — he uses Elisha.

Today’s Gospel miracle of the multiplication of the loaves is unique in that the story is told in all four Gospels. As is especially clear in other versions of the story, Jesus feeds the multitudes in the Gospel not himself, but through the hands of the apostles.

When we serve food at table, we are doing what they did: distributing the food God provides for his people to eat.

And when we give alms, or feed the needy, or do any of the corporal works of mercy, we are doing the same thing again: We are distributing God’s goods, not our own. The best of us are not benevolent benefactors, but (mostly) reliable waiters.

The Gregorian Institute is Benedictine College’s initiative to promote Catholic identity in public life by equipping leaders (the Gregorian speech Digest), training leaders (the Gregorian Fellows), defending the faith (the Memorare Army for Religious Freedom), and celebrating Catholic identity (the Catholic Hall of Fame).

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. His book What Pope Francis Really Said is now available on Audible. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, Hoopes served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.