Sixth Sunday of Easter
I remember a story I heard some years back about a young man, Jonathan, who tried his best to be a very good and devout Christian. From childhood he was so obedient to his parents and teachers because he was taught that goodness and obedience called down God’s blessings. As he got out of high school and prepared to go to college, he went to his parish priest to ask for his blessings on his journey. The priest prayed for him and asked him to trust God because God was with him. Before leaving the priest’s office, Jonathan turned to the priest and said: “Father, please try to tell God that I do not want surprises. Just let him do his part because I am doing my own part in serving him!” The priest smiled and gently said: “I cannot assure you of that, my child. God always surprises us.” “But that is exactly what I do not want, Father”, the young man anxiously said. The priest gave him a pat on the back and sent him off with these words: “Trust him and you will never be disappointed!” He left the office though not convinced.
I heard this story many years ago but could not understand why the young man was scared of God’s surprises. With the passage of time I did come to understand his fears: God does not usually respect our expectations nor fit into our plans no matter how sacrosanct they might be. His purposes far outweigh our best of intentions and expectations. Whatever our expectations and plans, he bursts through all of them and invites us to follow him steadfastly in faith. But like children, we can whine and throw temper tantrums each time God does not fit into our plans or respect our expectations. He understands and gently waits for us to come to understanding. Surprises from God usually lead us to a deeper understanding of him and his ways. This deeper knowledge increases our faith in him and makes it possible for us to hold onto him no matter the situation.
The Jews were so surprised that the uncircumcised Gentiles could receive the Holy Spirit. They thought the Holy Spirit could only fall on the circumcised Jews. “While Peter was still speaking the Holy Spirit came down on all the listeners. Jewish believers who had accompanied Peter were all astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit should be poured out on the pagans too, since they could hear them speaking strange languages and proclaiming the greatness of God” (Acts 10:44-46). They were astonished, surprised, astounded! These are words that express the inner shock at the complete turn of events. This is our God! After all, there is no surprise in history greater than God taking flesh in Jesus Christ just to show us how so dear we are to him, even to the point of laying down his life for each one of us. “A man can have no greater love than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). We are friends of Jesus! What a huge surprise! It is like being taken from the remotest village where there is nothing and no hope, and be turned into the president’s son or daughter! And this is even a far cry from what the reality is!
It is for this reason that we should love one another because we are all friends of Jesus – not some, but all of us are friends of Jesus. If we refuse to love, then we are rejecting friendship with him. “You are my friends if you do what I command you. This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 15:14, 12). May we be open to the surprises of God and grow in faith and trust. And may we receive with grateful hearts his friendship and extend it to all men and women we encounter on our journey of life. Amen