About a year ago I was praying the Liturgy of the Hours, which are the daily prayers that all priests, deacons, and religious pray. As I was praying, I came across the antiphon, “Surrender to the Lord, and He will do everything for you.” Now, that sounds nice and pious, but I remember thinking, “Everything? The Lord will do everything for me? I don’t want the Lord to do everything for me. I mean, I want Him to take care of some things, the big things, the things I can’t handle on my own. But I’m a grown man. I can take care of most things myself.”
Now, I realize that those aren’t the most virtuous thoughts. I’m sure that, as a priest, I am supposed to live a life of absolute and total surrender to God. But that’s tough. And I don’t think I’m the only one who struggles with that. I think there is a perennial temptation as believers to treat God as our personal assistant. He’s the one that we call on to do the things that we don’t have the time, the energy, the desire, or the ability to handle ourselves. But we take care of the rest on our own. We wouldn’t necessarily admit to it. If you asked me, I would tell you that I trust God with everything, that I see Him as the source of all that I have. But in my heart, I trust God with some things, and I see Him as the source of those things, but I see a lot of what I have and am as the result of my own abilities.
Our readings today stress that God wants to take care of us. In our first reading, the Prophet Isaiah expresses it in poetic, symbolic terms. “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will provide for all peoples a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines. On this mountain he will destroy the veil that veils all peoples, the web that is woven over all nations; he will destroy death forever.” God wants to provide for our needs and take away that which afflicts us. And not only supply for our needs, but to do so in a most extravagant way. Isaiah doesn’t just say that god will give us food and drink, as if He’s just going to toss us some stale bread and water. And He isn’t just going to provide for a few people. “The Lord of hosts will provide for all people a feast of rich food and choice wines, juicy, rich food and pure, choice wines.” Isaiah is not just talking about God giving us good food, but God providing us everything. In the second reading, St. Paul says it much more directly, “My God will fully supply whatever you need, in accord with his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” God will fully supply whatever we need. God is so amazingly abundant with His graces to us. Again, God doesn’t want to give us just the bare minimum. And God doesn’t want to just be a stopgap. He doesn’t want to just fill in the parts that we can’t do on our own. He will fully supply us with whatever we need. God wants to give us everything.
But that means that we have to rely on Him for everything. And as easy as that is to say, it is hard to do. Ever since we were infants, we’ve been taught that the goal is to do things ourselves. Our parents applauded when we took our first step, when we could feed ourselves or tie our own shoes. We’ve been taught, explicitly and implicitly, throughout our whole lives that it is a virtue to be able to do things on our own. Asking people for help, relying on others, being unable to do something, is seen as a bad thing. How often, when someone has offered to help you, have you responded, almost instinctively, “I’ve got it. I can do it.” We don’t want help unless we feel that we absolutely need it.
In the Gospel today, Our Lord takes a parable of a king who tries inviting his guests to a feast, but they refuse. When we first hear the parable, that may seem absurd. Why would anyone do that? But how often do we refuse to let God provide for us, choosing instead to rely on ourselves? It is as though the king invited us to a feast, but we said, “Oh, no thanks, I have plenty of food myself. I’m good.” I’m not saying that we are terrible people committing atrocious sins. But we are simply self-reliant, rather than seeking the Lord in all things. Even as a priest, this is a temptation. All too often, I find myself relying on myself and my own abilities rather than seeking to surrender everything to the Lord and allowing Him to provide. For example, I think of how many times I have sat down to begin writing a homily, and my approach is, “What am I going to say about these readings?” rather than, “What is the Lord saying through these readings?” When meeting with people, I think, “What great advice can I give them?” rather than, “What is the Lord saying to them?” Again, it is so easy to fall into this self-reliance, that we don’t even notice it. When you are at work, is your approach, “What am I going to do? How am I going to handle this situation?” or is your approach, “Lord, I give this all to you and ask you to provide for me as you see fit, because I know that you will always fully supply whatever I need?” In your relationships with other people, whether that is your spouse, your kids, your friends and coworkers, strangers, are your words and actions guided by yourself or do you ask the Holy Spirit to guide you? Imagine how radically different our world would be if we allowed everything we did to be guided by God. If we truly allowed the Lord to provide for us in every situation of our lives and relied not on our own understanding and will. The Psalm today proclaims that the Lord is my shepherd. But do I allow my shepherd to lead me, or do I lead myself?
God wants to provide for us, richly and in abundance. But we have to let Him. We have to turn to Him, not just in the difficult situations, but at all times. That is hard. It takes constantly living in relationship with Him. It means in everything we do turning our minds to the Lord and saying, “God, I give this to you, and I ask you to provide for me in this situation.” We are called to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us, not just in the challenging situations or the ones that are beyond our abilities, but every situation.
So my challenge to you this morning is this: during this next week, as often as you can remember to do it, pray, “Lord, I give this to you, and I ask that you provide for me.” Do it in all things: at work, at school, at home, in whatever you are doing. It isn’t easy. It takes practice. You probably won’t do it perfectly. But the more we turn things over to God, the more that we allow Him to provide for us in all things, the closer we get to truly being His disciple. The more we trust God, the more that we will truly be able to say that we love Him above all things. And if we allow Him to provide, we will share in the feast that He invites us to.