ENCOUNTERING THE GOD OF SURPRISES

August 30, 2014 at 9:31 am Leave a comment

SCRIPTURE READINGS: 1 COR 1:1-9; MT 24:42-51
http://www.universalis.com/20140828/mass.htm

The parable reveals to us the ways of God.  He comes like a thief.  God is a God of surprises.  But why, we might ask, does He come in such a manner?  Why can’t He tell us exactly the time of His coming so that we can be ready to receive Him? Why should God be so unfair to catch us when we are unprepared and off guard? Shouldn’t He keep us informed of His coming because if He did, surely we would welcome Him with pomp even?

The truth is that without surprises, there is no excitement, because there is nothing new.  But God is the living God, the same and yet always new.  He is always fresh.  He is the God of the present.  He is always faithful, but He does not relate to us in the same old way.  This is because every relationship is new, growing, or deteriorating.  It can never be the same always.  The God of surprises is manifested in the Old Testament in the way He related to Abraham, when he was asked to sacrifice his son, Isaac.   He surprised the Israelites at the Exodus and again at the exile by delivering them from the hands of their enemies. Most of all, He surprised us at the Incarnation and the Resurrection, both events beyond the imagination of man. 

Without surprises, we will fall asleep.  How true, especially in our prayers, or even in the way we read the scriptures.  We know them so well that we no longer wonder at God’s love and works.  We read the scriptures the same old way; after all, it is the same old text.  We pray the psalms without any feelings, so long as we chant them correctly, in the same way we have been doing for years.  Routine allows us to continue doing things whilst sleeping, like saying the rosary, or even at mass, much like the way we brush our teeth before we go to sleep at night.  We like routine and institutions.  We have fixed mindsets.  We loathe change.  We are comfortable in being static.  Indeed, rituals and set prayers help people to pray without involving their head and their heart.  This is why we never encounter God.

For this reason, God will never tell us when He is coming.  He will come when we least expect Him, because if He comes as expected, we would not welcome Him with excitement, because there would be no surprise.  Just like when He went to Nazareth and the people could not recognize Him, as He was too ordinary. But when He is not expected, His coming will bring about the sense of wonder and mystery in us.

Isn’t it true that the presence of God is felt most where and when we least expect Him, as when we pass an exam when we were least prepared or are healed of a sickness that is deemed incurable?  Or when He helps us to solve a problem that apparently has no solution?  Whilst we pray, we tend to tell God what we expect Him to do.  Again and again, God surprises us by helping to resolve our problems in unexpected ways.  We fall into wonder and praise God like today’s psalmist, who marveled at the wisdom and mysterious power of God’s work.

Of course, God also comes unexpectedly, not only on special occasions.  He comes also when we are not alert, but routinely engaged in our ordinary and mundane activities.  Like when we get an inspiration or an insight whilst preparing a homily, or a talk, or simply just dreaming. Indeed, Jesus said, “Happy that servant if his Master’s arrival finds him at this employment.”

When that happens, we are given even more graces.  When the Lord has surprised us once, we can expect more surprises.  Just as we expect surprises from someone who has surprised us once before, because we have come to associate the person with creativity and imagination.  That is why those whose prayers have been answered before, pray with greater faith on account of the prayers answered.

Consider the prayer to our Lady, the “memorare”.  “Remember O most Gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known, that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored your help or sought thy intercession was left unaided.  Inspired with this confidence, I fly to thee, O virgin of virgins, my mother.  To thee I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful.  O mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer me.”  It is based on past confidence that we can continue to pray to our Lady with faith.  Because of the surprises in the past, we are ready for new surprises.

So how can we continue to be surprised?  St Paul tells us that we can do so by being thankful and open to His graces: “I never stop thanking God for all the graces you have received through Lord Jesus Christ.”  Indeed, if only we are more conscious of what the Lord has done for us, then we can be confident that the Lord is always surprising us in new ways.  Consciousness is the way to be surprised.  This might seem a contradiction.  But without consciousness, we cannot wonder.  As Martin Heidegger says, “It is not enough to be simply there but we must be there.”  When we are conscious of things, even ordinary things in life, then the Lord becomes the Lord of surprises.  Indeed, as the Zen story goes, “We only look at the moon but never see it.”

Secondly, we can be surprised if only we allow ourselves to be enriched by Him and are aware of how we are being enriched.  How can we be enriched?  Paul said, “especially in your teachers and preachers who help us to be more attentive to the ways that God wants to surprise us.”  Indeed, in sharing God’s Word, we are called to enrich and surprise our listeners.  It is amazing how God can inspire us with new ideas all the time, or to do things which we know we cannot do on our own.  We get excited.  When I give talks, I am surprised at how I am able to give the same talk but with a different perspective each time; ever old and yet ever new.   I am surprised at the way God works in my life, especially in my ministry in ways beyond my expectation or ability.

Finally, we can be strengthened and become more conscious of God’s surprises through witnesses and testimonies.  St Paul said, “the witness to Christ has indeed been strong among you so that you will not be without any of the gifts of the Spirit while you are waiting for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.”  Yes, sharing our testimonies of what God has done for us will awaken our consciousness to the Lord’s presence.

However, there is also a warning for those who are asleep.  Jesus said “But as for the dishonest servant who says to himself, ‘My master is taking his time,’ and sets about beating his fellow servants and eating and drinking with drunkards, his master will come on a day he does not expect and at an hour he does not know.  The master will cut him off and send him to the same fate as the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth.”  In other words, he will suffer the missed opportunity of encountering the Lord whilst he was drunk and busy with his own sinful affairs.  Wouldn’t it be so sad to know that the Lord came and passed you by because you were asleep, preoccupied with your worldly activities and living in your own world?

WRITTEN BY THE MOST REV WILLIAM GOH
ARCHBISHOP OF SINGAPORE
© ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Retrieved from http://www.csctr.net/28-august-2014-thursday-21st-week-in-ordinary-time/#sthash.GQAqOTkX.dpbs

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