Maybe Things Are Hard Because We Thought Things Would Be Different

Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time – February 3, 2019

Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS

Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30

We have all watched a child get irrationally angry about something. And usually, if we can keep our cool, if we don’t lose our patience and just start yelling at the kid, it is easy to understand why they are upset. We tell them no more candy; they get upset because in their mind they expect to be able to eat candy all they want. We tell them to go to bed; they get upset because in their mind they expect to be able to decide when it is a good time for them to go to bed. You tell them no more phone or tablet, and they absolutely lose it because they’re addicted to it, but also because they expect to be able to stay on it as long as they want. (Kind of sounds like your teenagers too, yeah?) Well, as adults, as their parents, we understand that too much candy is bad, or that they need to sleep even if they don’t want to, or that too much time on the tablet is going to hurt their brain and development. We know this. We understand. We have a much better view of the big picture. The kids have their ideas and expectations of what they think is best, but their ideas and expectations are very short-sighted and selfish and can often cause a great deal of harm to themselves. But we know better; we know what is good for them.

Now, look at yourself. Because we are no different. I am no different. I have my own ideas and expectations for life and other people and what is going to make me happy. And then something else happens, something other than what I expected happens. And we can get very upset. And a lot of times, the one we can most easily blame is the Lord himself. We see something terrible happen and say, “Why would God allow this to happen? Why would God do this?” Just like those kids, we get upset. We start to suffer because we imagined things would be different, that things should be different. Our own ideas and expectations run-up against reality, and we get upset.

But have you ever stopped to think that we are the problem? Usually, we have our own ideas, and then we try to get God to match up with these ideas, and get mad when he doesn’t, blame him for not being “all knowing” or “all loving.” But have you ever stopped to think that we are the problem, that we don’t know enough, that we don’t love enough? No. We’re usually pretty sure we’re right, that everyone else is wrong, and if they just saw it like we did everything would be fine. And we can get so entrenched in this, so stubborn that we are right and did nothing wrong, so convinced that our thoughts and expectations are the only way—we can get so caught-up in this that we will even fight against the people closest to us.

This is exactly what we see in our Gospel today. Jesus has returned home to Nazareth, returned home to the people around whom he grew-up, the people closest to him. And the people from Nazareth who hear him are astonished, amazed at what they were hearing. But they are also getting a little angry because Jesus has begun to challenge the ideas and expectations that they have. And they started to ask questions, “Isn’t this the son of Joseph? Didn’t we watch him grow up here? Where did he get all of this? Who does he think he is?” And just like that, their astonishment turns to offense, to shock, to scandal. After all, Jesus is just an ordinary guy, just another native of Nazareth. And they probably start saying things like, “Who is this guy to be teaching us? Nah, I knew him when he was a kid and there can’t be anything special about him.”

The people are so entrenched in their own ideas, so stubborn that they are right and have done nothing wrong, so convinced that their thoughts and expectations are the only way—they are so caught-up in this that they are even willing to throw him off the cliff.

Again, children can get very upset or angry because we didn’t let them have their way, because their ideas and expectations for eating candy or going to bed or playing on the tablet didn’t happen—and I’m sure that they may even want to throw us off a cliff. But we know better, we know what is best for them.

But what about ourselves? Can we look at ourselves the same way? Because just like our kids, we have our own ideas and expectations of what we think is best, but our ideas and expectations are very short-sighted and selfish and can often cause a great deal of harm to ourselves. Can we have the humility and trust and simplicity of heart to say, “Lord, you know me better than I know myself. You love me with a love that never fails. I trust that, even though this is not what I had planned or expected, you are loving me and taking care of me.” Can we say this? Can we pray this?

This is a hard prayer, because it means that we are admitting that someone knows better than us, it means that our way is not the best way, that our expectations are not always good. That’s hard. But it’s only hard when we don’t trust, truly trust that the other person has our best interest in mind, that the other person truly loves us, truly will do anything for our good. It takes that simple prayer, “Lord, you know me better than I know myself. Help me to trust in you.”

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