How God Cares for Those In Need
When we look at people in need – a poor family that can’t take care of their children, a lonely person with no one to turn to, an elderly person who has no one to help them, scenes of the horror from war and poverty around the world – whatever the situation, when we see people in need, how do we feel? What do we think? But most importantly, how do we respond?
Some skeptics often blame God for the suffering and injustices of the world. Why does God allow people to suffer? Why does God allow such poverty? Why doesn’t God do something to help those in need?
For too many people, we often take an indifferent and passive attitude toward those in need. Often when we feel guilty, we try to justify our apathy by placing the blame and responsibility on God. “If He is an Almighty God, why doesn’t He do something to help them.”
In today’s Gospel reading, we have a very concrete example of not only how God sees people, but more importantly HOW he chooses to help them. “When Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed them.” Christ looks out upon the world, especially upon those in need, and always looks out with love and compassion. He is our loving Father, the one who created us in the palm of his hands, the one who promises to never abandon us, the one who desires only what is good for us, the one who is our Good Shepherd, the one who leads us to green pastures and gentle waters.
The world around us often distorts this beautiful image of God by thinking of Him in terms of our earthly relationships – as an indifferent, vengeful, unmerciful or even harsh god who takes pleasure in punishing rather than in forgiving. My family and I recently watched a beautiful children’s film called “The Bridge to Teribithia.” The film, made from an award winning book, was quite entertaining, and filled with some good messages. But one scene showed the kids going to Church, and like Hollywood too often does, it portrays this boring, fundamentalistic, almost mean church which leaves the kids with the understanding that God wants to send people to hell! Of course, this idea totally distorts the image of the Jesus that we Orthodox Christians believe in. And in today’s Gospel, we see the spirit of Christ when we read, “When Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them.”
We see a common theme repeated throughout the Bible – a God who is kind and full of compassion, long-suffering and generous in mercy.” Jesus Christ’s entire life reflected this unconditional and absolute divine love, since He alone is the source of all love. St. John the Theologian clearly puts it, “God is love.”
A problem arises, however, in the eyes of many skeptics. If God is so loving, compassionate, gracious and kind, then why is there still injustice, poverty, suffering, and evil in the world? If He is all powerful, why doesn’t he intervene in history here and now? Where is God when we see the individuals, as well as the masses of people, who have desperate needs?
Well, today’s Gospel not only tells us how God looks upon the world, but it also tells us how He chooses to help those in need. We read that the disciples saw that a great crowd of more than 5000 who had been with Jesus out in the desert for an entire day. They are tired and hungry, so the disciples ask Jesus, “Send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages and buy themselves food.”
Here we see a typical response of too many of us in the face of concrete needs. We tell the people to go away, to take care of their own needs. Too often we remain indifferent. Even if we feel sorry for them, we convince ourselves that we can’t do anything, the need is too great for us to make an impact, so we don’t even try. Maybe we will say a prayer for them, but then we’ll say that others must concretely help them.
Christ responds to this attempt to avoid responsibility by saying, “They don’t need to go away. YOU give them something to eat!”
This comment surely shocked the disciples. How could they, 12 men, feed 5000 men, plus all the women and children. There may have been more than 15,000 people in the desert. The disciples look around and found only five loaves of bread and two fish. How could this help? If they were looking for a miracle to occur, then they learned an important lesson about how our Lord often works. His most common miracle is to touch the hearts of his followers, so that they respond!
And the story of today reminds us that it doesn’t matter how little we have to offer, as long as we willingly offer whatever we have, combined with the blessings of God. God will take our limited gifts and multiply them so that miracles can then happen!
When skeptics ask, “Where is God when we see people who have desperate needs?” today’s Gospel lesson answers clearly, “God is where his disciples are. Where we are!” God is waiting for us to offer our five loaves and two fish, to unselfishly share whatever we have, whether big or small, and to become His instruments which offer love, compassion, mercy, as well as concrete food, clothing, and material aid to those in desperate situations.
Look throughout Biblical history and see how God often performed his miracles by using simple followers –the despised brother Joseph saved his family during the famine in Israel, Moses freed the Israelites from the mighty power of Egypt, Esther saved the Jews from the Persians, the young man David defeated the mighty warrior Goliath, the prophets became His messengers to His people, the Virgin Mary gave birth to God on earth, his simple and illiterate apostles proclaimed the good news throughout the world, and his saints and all faithful believers in every generation have acted as God’s hands and feet in bringing His love in very concrete ways to those in need.
Jesus clearly taught us, “I was hungry and YOU fed me; I was thirsty and YOU gave me to drink; I was naked and YOU clothed me; I was sick and in prison, and YOU visited me.”
Each one of us is God’s ambassador and He expects us to feed, cloth, and visit those in need. When we represent Him, He will then bless our efforts and multiply our abilities. He will do miracles through us, if only we do all in His name and for His glory!
I remember when some people praised Mother Teresa for the many good works she did among the poor throughout the world. She always responded in such a beautiful manner, “I am nothing but a pencil. No great works came from me, but only from God through me. I deserve no praise, but all credit goes to God.”
God calls each one of us to become a pencil in His hands. Will we allow God to use us to write a miracle in the lives of others? Will our pencil be sharpened and ready in the hands of our Lord to help those in need?
Let us all conclude with the beautiful prayer of Francis of Asissi. Maybe we can each offer this prayer daily, and try to live it out in our lives:
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, use me to sow (plant/cultivate) love.
Where there is injury, use me to sow pardon.
Where there is doubt, use me to sow faith.
Where there is discord, use me to sow unity.
Where there is darkness, use me to sow light.
Where there is sadness, use me to sow joy.
Where there is error, use me to sow trutWhere there is despair, use me to sow hope.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console others.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand others.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be loved, as to love others.
For it is in giving that we receive. It is in pardoning that we are pardoned. And it is in
dying that we are born to eternal life.
Facing Our Uncertain Future
Love Until It Hurts
Our Orthodox Faith