When God Wants an Answer: Homily for Friday of the Second Week of Easter
God has a special right over us, his children: it is the right to our response to his love, in spite of our failings. This inescapable truth puts us under an obligation which we cannot shirk. But it also gives us complete confidence: we are instruments in the hands of God, instruments that he relies on every day. That is why, every day, we struggle to serve him.
ST. JOSEMARIA ESCRIVA
The Forge, no. 613
“How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” (John 6:5) This is God’s question to Philip and eleven other unprepared men. But whenever God asks a question we have to be very careful. He already knows the answer. He’s not looking for information. We know that He knows and He knows that He knows. But He puts us on the spot to draw something out of us that we may not know is there.
It has been said that the questions of Jesus often force us to see a side of ourselves that we would rather not explore—an unsightly part of ourselves. We are explicitly told today that, in fact, Jesus’ question is a “test”—and when we are tested in any way several things might come out of us: fear, ignorance, truth, courage, even heroism.
Our Lord says that it is from the heart that all of our good and bad desires and actions originate. What’s coming out of your heart right now? Are you responding to a trial right now? How are you responding to it? It might be that, in your present test, there is an unanswered question that the Lord is waiting for you to respond to. He may even be pressing the issue to an uncomfortable intensity. Is there something He’s asking you to accept? To let go of? To own up to?
When the test comes from the Lord, He’s looking for something more than the “right” answer. It’s easy to memorize and give the “textbook” answer: “God gives grace to the humble but resists the proud” is an “A+” answer. But even the Pharisees had those kinds of answers. God puts His finger on our proud hearts often in a way that is extremely uncomfortable—because we know He wants more than an accurate, correct answer from us, and it takes some pressure to bring that out of us.
Sacred Scripture is full of examples of God’s “uncomfortable” questions to man, from “Adam, where are you?” to today’s question and beyond. Probably the most famous “question and answer” in the Old Testament is when God asks Job a series of unanswerable questions—or better, questions to which Job gives the only answer possible: “I put my hand over my mouth.”
Sometimes that kind of humble silence is the best we can do. But not always. When the Lord asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He wanted an answer—and an answer from the heart, from Peter’s heart, and from nowhere else: I’m not asking a crowd. I’m asking you. And today is another occasion when the Lord puts His disciples and us on the spot with a simple question, for which He expects an answer: “How are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this not because He was taken by surprise, nor because He was just thinking out loud, or hadn’t planned ahead for this unforeseen crisis, but to test them. Nothing that happens to us is unforeseen by God, and often we need to be reminded of that fact.
Sometimes what comes out of us in a time of trial is anything but peace and confidence in the Lord. But He’s trying to train us to start thinking and believing with the assurance of His presence and care. Instead of panicking, He wants us to learn that He knows—He sees us, hears us, and with Him we can do all things. “Nothing shall be impossible for God” is the disciple’s motto, and sometimes it takes multiple tests before we not only have the right answer on our lips, but that the answer has taken root in our hearts as certitude. As Job himself said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” Why? Because he had been through tests that would break any man, and he came through it without losing trust in God.
The answer Jesus gets from the Apostles today is an inventory of resources: We have so many loaves and so many fish—and, basically, no money. Lord, why are you even asking the question? In St Mark’s Gospel, the Lord even says, “Go and see how many loaves you have.” The Lord wants this information from them because it will reinforce the truth that they do not have enough to meet the need. He wants them to be crystal clear about that. Then He gets the verdict: “What are these among so many?” Exactly. And we know what happens next: the Lord provides. But He provides only after the Apostles had admitted that they were outmatched by these circumstances.
What circumstances are outmatching you right now? And what response is coming out of you? Questions and tests from God come in many different ways, from many sources, at odd times and in strange places. When we hit an obstacle in our lives, whether it happens all of sudden, or whether it’s an on ongoing problem that either we can’t handle or can’t seem to get around, we really have to see our Lord turning to us and asking: “How are we going to handle this? What is the solution?” And we should answer with the confidence that we know that He knows and He knows that He knows.
The answer will emerge from the dialogue that only Master and disciple can share. “Our Lord,” after all, “wants to make us co-redeemers with him,” as St Josemaria reminds us:
That is why to help us understand this marvel, he moves the evangelists to tell us of so many great wonders. He could have produced bread from anything … but he doesn’t! He looks for human co-operation: he “needs” a child, a boy, a few pieces of bread and some fish.
He needs you and me: and he is God! This should move us to be generous in our corresponding with his grace. (The Forge, no. 674)
God is fully prepared to make up for our poverty, our lack of resources, our fear. The question “What are these among so many?” that Simon Peter uses in response to the Lord’s first probe into the possibilities, finds its only possible answer in the miracle itself: the occasion for grace.