All you who are thirsty, come to the water!
18th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Doug McManaman
Reproduced with Permission

This gospel reading is really the fulfillment of the first reading from Isaiah: “All you who are thirsty, come to the water!...come, receive grain and eat;…Heed me, and you shall eat well, you shall delight in rich fare. Come to me heedfully, listen, that you may have life.”

In the gospel, the large crowd went in search of Jesus, who had gone to a deserted place upon hearing of the death of John the Baptist. The crowd found him; they literally came to the water. When Jesus sees the crowd, he is moved with pity.

That’s very significant. He knows that they came looking for him. He peers right into their hearts and sees the poverty that is there, which they recognized—which is why they went looking for him. And that’s the key to winning the heart of Christ: go in search of him in poverty of spirit. That’s what moves him. That’s how the heart of God can be conquered. And that’s the beauty of ministering to patients with mental illness; some of them have a very deep sense of their own poverty, their utter need for God—not all of them, but a large percentage of them, certainly a larger percentage than what we find among those who do not suffer from a mental illness. And that is why the Lord allows suffering into our lives. When we find ourselves in the midst of terrible suffering, think of it as the Lord waving a white flag, calling us to “surrender”. For this life is about learning to depend on God.

There’s nothing worse than to be out of touch with your own poverty of spirit, your own radical dependency upon God. That’s why prosperity is a dangerous thing. When we are prospering economically, physically, and psychologically, and everything is going our way, we tend to lose touch with our radical indigence, our own frailty and dependence. And because we carry the wounds of Original Sin, that makes matters so much worse, for we have a tendency towards inordinate desire. It’s very difficult for us to keep our passions under the guidance of reason. Our nature is naturally inclined to selfishness, to wanting more and more for the self. When everything is going well, our whole life, very subtly, becomes centered around the satisfaction of the self, and that’s when we lose touch with the most profound truth about ourselves, namely our radical need for God.

Suffering tends to snap us back to reality. Unless we are ridiculously stubborn, suffering typically brings us in touch with our own poverty of spirit, and then we go looking for God. And that’s the one thing God cannot resist: a contrite heart that knows its neediness, and which stands before Him helpless and seeking His help.

Jesus was moved with pity and he healed their sick, which the crowd brought with them. They didn’t leave their sick at home, but brought them to him. What love they had for their sick! They beheld their sickness as their own.

It takes a great deal of humility to be willing to behold one’s own neediness, acknowledge it, and go in search of Jesus. We always find him on the water. Water is both a symbol of life and a symbol of death. Water destroys, it is the most powerful force in nature, and it gives life to all living things. The way to new life is to die to the illusion of our own independence and to learn how to pray. This life is about learning how to pray, learning how to depend upon God. It is about learning to pay heed to God. At the Transfiguration, the Apostles heard a voice from heaven: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him”.

In this gospel, Christ works the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. And it began with the disciples wanting to send the crowd away so that they may take care of their needs, to feed themselves. But Jesus commanded the disciples to feed them. “You feed them,” he said. They could not imagine that. All they had were five loaves and two fish, and there were five thousand men, so including women and children, probably well over ten thousand were present. There is no human way to feed such a crowd with so little. We have come up against human limitations.

But Christ is God, and God is not limited by anything. He asks the disciples to give him what they have, give it all, however small it is. He will expand it; he will use it to feed the crowd, to do something that we cannot do on our own. With Christ, however, we can do what he commands us to do. He feeds the thousands that are there, and sends them away fulfilled.

There’s the lie of secular humanism fully exposed; this Pelagian idea that we can do what we put our mind to: “You can do anything”, we often hear. No, we can’t. In fact, there’s not much we can do on our own. We are profoundly limited. Only God can achieve in you what He intends to achieve in you. One of Mother Teresa’s Missionary sisters tells us that if Mother Teresa had known what it was that God was calling her to, if He had given her a peek into the future, she would have been overcome with fear and would have stayed back at the convent. We can do nothing, but “I can do all things in him who strengthens me”, says St. Paul, a scripture that Mother Theresa would often repeat.

You might remember Anthony Robbins, the one who, if you buy his tapes, will teach you how to make a million bucks, how to be successful, to tap into your hidden power, etc. He once met Mother Theresa and asked her: “Mother Theresa, what’s your secret?” She just said: “Jesus”. “Yes, Mother Theresa, but what is it that enables you to get up every morning and face the day…” “Jesus”, she repeated. “Yes, I know Mother Theresa, but I want to know the secret that keeps you going every day, facing death and hunger, and you still manage to get up and smile at these poor, how do you do it, what’s that secret ingredient…” “Jesus”, she again repeated. Eight times in all he asked her. He just couldn’t get it; couldn’t understand this holy saint of God.

Anthony Robbins, like so many others, is a Pelagian of the first order. Pelagianism is an ancient heresy that St. Augustine fought vigorously against, and it basically holds that man can save himself, he can get to heaven on his own efforts, he can avoid sin without the grace of God, that Jesus was just an external role model, but that we have what it takes within us to achieve all we wish to achieve in life.

The disciples came face to face with their utter limitations. How do you feed over ten thousand people with five loaves and two fish? You do as Jesus said, you bring them to him. Bring him all that you have and ask him to do what you cannot do.

I’m reminded of our school principal. She is a rather strong woman from Trinidad, and one day she came on the PA and announced: “Listen all you drug dealers out there, I have a message for you. Your days are numbered at this school. I’m coming after you. How dare you think that you can come to this school and play the pharmacist with our students. I’m your worst enemy, and I’m coming after you. It will take time, but mark my words, I’m going to catch you.”

I was told that as she was uttering that last line, one of those dealers was in the hall alone, and he started jumping up and down saying “catch me if you can, catch me if you can”. At that very moment, the Vice Principal turned the corner, saw him and said: “You’re caught!”. So he was the first to go. Within three months all the drug dealers were caught and expelled. But I’ll never forget the Vice Principal telling me about all this. He said: “I don’t know how it happened. We just found ourselves at the right place and at the right time. Everything just worked out perfectly”.

And that is the point. Most principals wouldn’t dare do what our principal did, because in their eyes, it’s futile. It’s a battle they can’t win. There’s no foreseeable way to achieve that. But our principal was incensed at the thought of scoundrels entering our halls to destroy our young people with drugs; she hates injustice and she wasn’t going to accept it, unlike a great many others. And she had no clue how she was going to achieve her goal, but she surrendered herself into the hands of God and risked looking like a total fool in front of 1500 people. She gave the little she had to God, and God did the rest. The Vice Principal had no answer: “I don’t know how it happened. We were always at the right place at the right time.”

The answer is divine providence. God can do anything, but we have to give him the five loaves and the two fish. Give him the little we have. We must be willing to take the risk and look foolish. When God partners up with you and me, miracles start to happen. But He awaits us, our decision, to join Him in battle. But we will refuse to join Him if we lack the faith that He stands ready and willing to be intimately part of our life, to bring healing to our life, or victory to the battles we find ourselves in.

The crowd went looking for him, found him in a deserted place, he had pity on them, healed their sick, and he commanded his followers to feed them. They were dumfounded, they saw their limitations. They gave him the little they had, and he fed them. They went away fulfilled and healed.

We can try to do things on our own, try to quench our own thirst, try to bring fulfillment and rest to our own restless hearts, but they will always be restless. We can try to bring healing and order to this chaotic world in our own way and on our own terms, but things will never change, if we keep doing things our way, no matter how well intentioned. There will always be conflict, war and injustice, as long as we rely on ourselves. This is not our world—although we sincerely believe it is. It belongs to Christ. All things have been given over to him. Christ alone is the answer. Man has never been a savior and he never will be. Christ alone is savior. Seek him out at the edge of the water and you will never thirst again.