A missionary priest working in the West African country of Liberia tells the story of a visit he made one evening to a local family. They gathered in a circle on the dirt floor of the modest hut and shared their faith. To wrap up their time together, the priest asked if they had any intentions they would like him to pray for. The father spoke up telling the priest that it had been months since they were able to eat meat. If there were anything he could ask God for it would be that he could provide his family with fresh meat for the dinner table. When the priest heard the request, he felt a tinge of anxiety. He wondered what would happen to their faith if he prayed with them for meat, but they never got any. Nonetheless, he decided to trust God and offered up a prayer that somehow this poor family would have meat for their dinner table.
After their meeting, the father drove the priest back to the village. As they bounced along the bumpy jungle road, an animal jumped out in front of them. The man got excited and yelled out, “Look, Father!” Then, gunning the engine, he ran over the stunned animal with his jeep, killing it instantly. The man jumped out of the vehicle, held the animal up by the tail and said to the priest, “See, Father. We asked for meat, and God provided it for us!”
The priest thought to himself that he had no idea what kind of animal it was that they had just killed, and it was certainly nothing he would be interested in eating. But he learned that we can certainly trust God to answer our prayers. We just have to keep our eyes open to the surprising ways he will provide for us.
Today’s readings speak to us about the abiding love that our Heavenly Father has for each of us. The Almighty Creator of the universe cares for us. The One who set the stars in their place and filled the oceans with water sees our needs and richly provides for them. The prophet Isaiah assures us that God loves us as tenderly as a mother loves her infant. Just as any mother would never fail to feed, clothe and shelter her children, God will never fail to nurture and protect us. In the gospel, Jesus points out to us how the birds of the air and the lilies of the field are taken care of by God. If our Heavenly Father will provide for the animals and plants of the world, so much more will he provide for us. However, as the missionary priest learned, we often have to open our eyes to discover the creative and surprising ways in which God answers our prayers.
Living in a prosperous society as we do, it is easy to forget that all that we have is given to us by God. Food is more than plentiful. In fact, most of us are more worried about eating too much than about having enough. We are often more concerned about what to do with clothing that no longer fits us or is no longer fashionable than we are with how we will stay warm. Our super-abundance of goods has tricked us into thinking that all we have is a result of our hard work and ingenuity. But did we have anything to do with being born in a prosperous country? Did we have any say in what talents and abilities we would be born with? Was it by our own hard work that we happen to be healthy and intelligent enough to work. Isn’t it true that the fact that we were born at all can only be attributed to God and his love for us? No matter how hard we have worked to provide a home, money and food for ourselves and our families, we can never forget that it all comes from God.
If we were to lose it all, the first person we would blame would be God. Therefore, if we enjoy it, the first person we should thank should be our Heavenly Father.
Even in a prosperous society as our own, many who are sitting next to us today find themselves in dire need. In a fragile economy, many are unemployed, facing foreclosure on their homes or falling behind on their bills. Many of us have lost everything we have worked so hard to achieve. The feeling of frustration and failure can be overwhelming. In such times, we can wonder whether God has forgotten or abandoned us.
It is precisely in such times that we must turn to God. Whatever our needs may be, we can put them into his hands and trust that he will provide for us. Whether it be a job, money for bills or food for our table, God will supply our need. However, most likely it will not come in the way we expect nor according to our schedule. It will come in the way God sees fit and according to his timetable. But we can be assured that it will be just we need and that it will come at just the right time.
And so, Jesus’ words to us are, “Do not worry.” When we find ourselves troubled about our present circumstances or anxious about our future prospects, it is time to drop everything, focus our mind on God and say, “Lord, I trust in you.” Then we must remind ourselves that we have enough to get through today, and that is sufficient. Tomorrow will take care of itself. The more we react to stress in this way, the more of a habit it will become. Our thoughts will then be centered not on our weakness and inabilities but on God’s power and love. With that will come a peace that no amount of hardships or difficulties will ever be able to steal from us.