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Eighteenth Sunday of the Year

Does God Care?

God cares for everyone, indeed for everything, but not in the same way. Sometimes it can seem, however, that God does not care at all, though our needs can be desperate and pressing. The main thing to believe when God's care for us becomes puzzling is that it is our understanding is limited, not his love.

It could well be that our disappointment with God comes from wanting to know more than it is in fact possible for us to know. God's nature – what he is like, how he should behave, what it means for God to love – remain beyond our grasp. If we knew all that, we would be God. What we need to know is what St Paul tells us – that nothing can come between us and the love of Christ.

In today's Gospel we see God's care for us expressed in a miracle, and to learn about such extraordinary love is reassuring. But we are also shown something else, and this too is important. We go to the Bible to learn about God and also to learn about ourselves. This is why Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, is such a good and complete teacher.

First the miracle: hungry people, thousands of them, were fed miraculously. Miracles are the extraordinary way God cares for us, and they are not just a distant memory of what Jesus did during his earthly life. Miracles can still happen, and do happen. It is therefore completely proper to turn to God to ask for a miracle. Holy places such as Lourdes, and causes of canonizations of saints, keep alive in us the belief that miracles do happen.

It is perhaps surprising in an age such as ours to read fairly regularly about 'miracles' happening. Usually what is meant is that something extremely unlikely has happened, often related to an accident or disaster. Only one person remains alive after a terrible crash in which everyone else has died, and this is described as a miracle. Someone survives for ages under rubble after an earthquake, and this is called a miracle. This kind of talk leaves out God and therefore tells us only a part of what miracles are – it concentrates on what is extremely unusual rather than on what God has done. A miracle can come to mean simply a statistical oddity, a freak occurrence. A miracle, in the full Christian sense of the word, is essentially God's action and brings us closer to God.

At the centre of today's Gospel is the miracle of the feeding of a huge crowd of people. But before and after Jesus does the miracle, some things are said and done which we must not neglect. As I write this sermon, and as you read it, very many people are starving. Starving in a way most of us can't even imagine happening to us. Some will die. Does God care? Do we care?

In such situations miracles can be prayed for, and we should not neglect this kind of prayer. A miraculous answer to our prayer may be granted by God. If there is no miraculous feeding on some occasion, then we should not doubt God's care but accept that this is beyond our understanding.

But what about us? Do we care? Part of our care will be expressed in praying repeatedly and fervently for miracles. But today's Gospel adds to this: when informed by the disciples about the lack of food, Jesus's first reaction was to tell the disciples that they should provide the necessary food: 'You give them something to eat'. We cannot dodge this. We cannot look away. As individuals and as societies when faced with the hunger of others, Jesus's words stand – you give them something to eat.

And there is more. After the miracle, the remaining food was collected. Organising ourselves so as to waste a lot of food is another way of depriving others in need, it throws away the possibility of caring for others. To 'enjoy' a standard of living so distant from the misery of so many others, and possibly making it worse, should be a disturbing kind of pleasure.

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