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SERVE THE LORD WITH GLADNESS | God’s plan can lead to fulfillment in surprising ways

God, who was at work in salvation history, is still at work in our spiritual lives

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

This week’s readings contain a series of surprises. I think those surprises contain some wisdom for our spiritual and institutional life.

We hear about Susanna from the Book of Daniel and how she was falsely accused of adultery. God protected her because she was innocent, inspiring the young Daniel to uncover the lie of her accusers. Immediately afterward, in the Gospel, we hear about the woman caught in adultery. Jesus, God in the flesh, protects her, even though she’s guilty — and invites her to conversion. What we see in these episodes is continuity in God’s saving action, but with a surprising fulfillment in Jesus.

We hear about the serpent mounted on a pole from the Book of Numbers: Whoever looked at it after being bitten by a serpent would be saved from death. But this is just a setup for Jesus mounted on the Cross: Whoever looks upon Him with faith will be saved from eternal death. Again, there’s continuity of God’s saving action, but with a surprising twist in Jesus.

We hear about Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and how God kept them unharmed in the midst of the fiery furnace. But — especially as Holy Week draws near — that makes us think of Jesus, and how God allowed Him to suffer the passion and crucifixion before raising Him from the dead. It’s another instance of the continuity of God’s saving action, but with a surprising fulfillment.

Finally, we hear Ezekiel’s vision of the restoration of Israel after the Exile: God’s scattered children would be gathered back into the land, in one kingdom, under one shepherd. Then we hear, in John 11, how Jesus will “die for the nation, and not only for the nation, but also to gather into one the dispersed children of God.” Yes, God brings about a restoration of His people in one kingdom under one shepherd — but with a surprising twist!

When we see a seed grow into a flower, there’s continuity but surprise. When we read a good novel, the characters and plot show both continuity and surprise. The same God who made nature and who inspires creative writers is the God at work in salvation history. So, we might have expected to see continuity and surprise. But God’s surprises never cease to amaze me!

I think this is helpful in two ways.

First: It’s helpful for reflecting on our own lives. The God who was at work in salvation history is still at work in our spiritual lives. How is God building in your life: What are the points of continuity, and what are the points of surprising fulfillment?

Second: I think it’s helpful as we reflect on the changes of All Things New. The God who was at work in salvation history is still at work in the institutional life of the Church. Are we facing changes? Yes. But I think it’s helpful to approach those changes with the expectation that God’s work always shows this pattern of continuity and surprise. Parish life will continue, but it may be fulfilled in surprising new ways. If Jesus is at work, we ought to expect that!

We sometimes act as though change simply means the dying of something. Jesus shows, in a way that the readings this week make abundantly clear, that change can mean the surprising fulfillment of God’s plan.

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