Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
“God helps those who help themselves” (or some variation) is a saying often mistakenly attributed to the Bible. While I wouldn’t want to deny that God provides aid to those with means, Scripture shows us time and again that God has a special place in His heart for those down on their luck. God helps us in ways we never even asked for. The people of Israel wanted help overthrowing Rome, and Jesus gave them help overthrowing death instead. God helps those who do not even know the help they need.
The gospel and first reading both show clearly how God helps us when we do not even have the ability to help ourselves. Both Elisha and Jesus saw crowds without food—crowds too poor to have any spare food squirreled away. The Romans in particular would have made sure that the people of Israel had nothing to spare—any excess would go to Rome and her tax collectors. With a few scraps, Jesus provides what the people never had—enough food for everyone. In providing so much food that the baskets were overflowing, Jesus provides what they would have never even thought to ask for.
But this largesse on God’s part does require something on our part. The gospel today says that Jesus “distributed [the loaves] to those who were reclining,” a more passive posture. They knew they could not provide the food, but only receive it. We are not usually inclined to admit that we need help. The fact that so many think that Scripture says for people to help themselves rather than ask a neighbor—or God—is proof enough of that. To receive the good things of God, are we willing to admit our weakness, become receptive to what God has to offer, and recline as God helps us in our helplessness?