18th Sunday in Ordinary Time – The Homily
There’s a lot of griping going on in today’s Scripture readings. In the First Reading the Israelites wanted their bellies filled. Not only did they complain, they were even willing to return to slavery just to have a full stomach.
We see a similar story in today’s Gospel. They’ve been fed. They witnessed a miracle. Still they’re not satisfied. They want more signs, more miracles, more food.
People sometimes complain to God about bad fortune in their life. The Lord sometimes plans to go beyond simply providing subsistence to a desperate, disgruntled people. He does this for a number of reasons.
One is that God wants people to stop focusing on the failure and think bigger. A key is a small instrument. But without the key, the largest, most powerful vehicle in the world doesn’t move. A problem in your life is like that key. It points to something bigger – a bigger ministry, a bigger blessing, a bigger future – that you just don’t see now.
Another reason is that God sometimes sends failure because your target is off. Christ says, “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life. The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. And I AM the bread of life.” Christ uses misfortune to push people into his arms where he can feed, lead, guide, teach and nurture them.
Third, people might desire, be jealous of and strive to achieve success. People truly admire people who have failed, and come through it. They can identify with struggle. Failure enables you to minister to others in a deeper, more effective way.
One marvelous example of this comes from the life of St. Margaret of Scotland. She was born around the year 1045 in Hungary, the daughter of the King of England and a niece of St. Stephen, King of Hungary.
Those were difficult years for the English royal family. England had been invaded by the Danes. The family had to flee to Hungary. They remained there in exile. Margaret born in a foreign land, as a refugee.
They returned to England, but then their country was invaded by the Normans. They had to flee again. A storm at sea wrecked their ship on the coast of Scotland. Margaret came out of the water and tried to recover, resting on a rock on the coastline. The family was saved with the help of Malcolm III, King of Scotland. Margaret and Malcolm soon fell in love, and were married.
When she came to the throne, there was no legal system available to the poor, no courts where they could go to settle their disputes or redress their wrongs. As Queen, Margaret used her authority and privileges for the good of her people. Desiring to be a worthy Christian Queen, St. Margaret went out herself and, sitting on the very rock where she had first rested and recovered upon her arrival in Scotland, she let her poor subjects gather round and explain their grievances. She herself judged and settled the disputes. Gradually, she convinced the King to appoint official judges and to establish courts throughout Scotland, where the poor and disenfranchised could get equal justice with the rich and powerful.
Margaret was fiercely loyal to the Church and reception of the Eucharist. Her desire for food that endures – God’s eternal mercy – didn’t inhibit her from helping gather food that perishes – earthly justice. It actually spurred her on. [Illustration adapted from “Catechism Stories” by Rev. F. H. Drinkwater]
In the Old Testament, God gave The Law to Moses and the Hebrews. But it was a setup. The Bible proves that they were never going to be able to follow it. But that’s the point. The law was given precisely because they would never be able to follow it. God knew that they would fail again and again. The law was provided to drive Israel, a constant failure, into the hands of God. God sometimes uses our failures to do the same.