Msgr. Joseph G. Prior

Msgr. Joseph G. Prior

(See the readings for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time, July 26)

Did you ever think about expectations? Many times we have expectations that we might think are “built in” to our lives, many of which have been formed in us through relationships, culture, education and life experiences.

Sometimes the expectations are good. For example, when entering into a relationship most people expect trust to be a foundation. When two people form a friendship, both have the same expectation of trust; then the relationship can be built on a solid footing. On the other hand if the expectations are different then the friendship will be unstable at best.

Another example might deal with expectations for life. “What do I expect out of life?” The question is different from “What do I hope for in life?,” in that hope entails a desire whereas an expectation assumes an outcome. Expectations, when evaluated, are often referred to as “realistic” and “unrealistic.” Sometimes they are referred to as “fulfilled” or “unfulfilled;” other times “high” or “low.”

Today we might reflect on our expectations of God. What are they? Is it fair to have expectations of God? Is it possible that God can work in our lives beyond our expectations?

The liturgy for this Sunday provides us with the account of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. The miracle is recalled in each of the four Gospels. Today’s passage comes from the Gospel according to John. The narrative starts off in a straightforward fashion. Jesus goes up a mountain. A large crowd is following him because of the signs he was doing. As he sits down he realizes the vastness of the crowd and asks the disciples: “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?”

The expectations of the disciples are revealed in both Philip and Andrew’s responses to Jesus’ question: “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip says: “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each one of them to have a little.” Andrew says: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?”

The disciples clearly thought that providing food for this crowd was an impossible task. In another account, the disciples even say to Jesus, “dismiss the crowds so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves” (cf. Matthew 14:15). No one expected that Jesus would be able to provide food by himself for that large crowd. Their expectations were about to change.

Jesus then tells the disciples to have the people recline, which was the physical position for eating in the ancient world (as contrasted with the present time where we usually sit). He then instructs his disciples to distribute five loaves and two fish. Miraculously there was enough food provided to feed the multitude. So much so that there were 12 wicker baskets full of fragments left over.

The miracle of the loaves and fish remind us that God’s saving activity exceeds all expectations. No one gathered there on that mountain would have expected to be fed so well in an isolated place.

Elijah had a similar experience when God had instructed him to feed 100 people as recounted in the first reading for Sunday’s liturgy. When the people saw the miracle of Jesus they said: “This is truly the Prophet, the one who is to come into the world.”

God can also act in our lives in unexpected ways. He has the ability and shows his loving mercy and salvific activity regularly in our lives. Recognizing his abiding presence and work in our lives helps us in dealing with situations or challenges that seem beyond us.

You may recall Jesus’ teaching on riches when he says: “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” Recognizing the magnitude of the task, the people respond: “Then who can be saved?” Jesus replies: “For human beings it is impossible, but not for God. All things are possible for God.” (cf. Matthew 10:24ff.).

God can act and does act in our lives; many times, in ways that are beyond our expectations.

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of St. John the Evangelist Parish, Morrisville.