Raise your hand if you like to be in control. Anyone else out there? Well, my hand is raised high in the air on that one. While this can be helpful in some situations when things need to get done, far too often, it gets me in trouble. This is obvious in situations in which I must respect the authority of a superior, or when working with equally competent people. But this can also be true in more subtle situations, even in “good” tasks like reading the Bible.
How can that be? Yes, God gave us a brain and we need to use it, but approaching our spirituality from a position of control leaves out the One who alone can give us understanding. The Holy Spirit isn’t a supporting character in the drama of my life; He should be the one driving all the action. People often go to the Bible in order to prove their own point. When the Bible is handled in this way, we are in great danger. Twisting God’s words to support my own views makes me the god of my life. If we don’t approach His word with humility and the willingness to be guided by the Holy Spirit and the Church, we miss out on the beauty and wisdom of those words. Recently, the daily mass readings perfectly showed this balance.
In Numbers 11:4-15, the Israelites are complaining about having no meat. They are remembering their time as slaves, romanticizing it as if it was a wonderful experience. Moses tells God, "Where can I get meat to give to all this people?...I cannot carry all this people by myself, for they are too heavy for me...(:14)" Moses is at the end of his rope and is acknowledging that He can only do this work with God’s help. How often have we found ourselves in this same position, crying out to God for his strength knowing that our own strength is insufficient? Got it, depend on God for strength; I can handle that.
But now flip to the Gospel reading, Matthew 14:13-21. On this day, the disciples are talking to Jesus about not having enough food to feed the crowds. Does he tell them, “You sit down and rest; I got this”? No, he says, "…give them some food yourselves (:16)." Wait, I thought I was supposed to depend on God’s strength, not my own.
It is specifically this tension that makes God and His word so amazing. Because both those things are true: Only God can give us the strength to do His work, and at the same time, He wants to use us. Only the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our lives can make any sense of this. The disciples went and got the bread and the fish, but it was Jesus who multiplied them. We give our part and God does the miracle of multiplying that effort. If I approach my life thinking that I have to have it all together and function out of my own abilities, I limit the great things that God wants to do through my life.
Humility. What a tough trait to live. Yet if I look at Jesus, his life defined humility. Just as Moses admitted his weakness, I must do the same if I want to be used by God to feed the masses. Some days we sense this weakness more than others—days when it would be a lot easier to ignore His call to serve in my home, in my ministry, in my friendships and in my community. But how liberating to know that this weakness leads me to depend on the Holy Spirit, allowing Jesus to guide me in taking the next step of doing His work. The work may not be glamorous, as it may be making photocopies, or listening to my children talk when all I want to do is go to bed, or cleaning up a mess, but even in those things, I will depend on God’s strength and be willing to do whatever He calls me to do next.
Kasey Carty Jordan is a former missionary to China and currently serves in youth ministry with her husband Kurt at their Catholic parish. The Jordans reside in Monticello with their seven children.