Coming to his hometown, He began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked. Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?…Where then did this man get all these things? And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.
Matt 13:54-58—Gospel from Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1st
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It’s easy to feel smug about the crowds in today’s Gospel, who don’t recognize God in their midst in the form of the local carpenter’s son. They are outraged because he’s a local boy; they’ve watch him grown up, they know his parents, they know all about him and what to expect from such a one. When He claims to be More than what they know, they are scandalized and offended.
We of course know better. We know to expect more of Him than from an ordinary man. We know not to be shocked when He claims the power to change things, to work miracles, to be something other than what one might expect. We know He’s God and He’s bigger than anything our tiny human minds are able to conceive.
Or do we?
Years ago when I was going through a spiritual crisis a priest suggested I spend some time each day reading the New Testament. I nodded politely but inwardly sighed. I “already knew” all of those stories. I had a Master’s Degree in theology, I had read them repeatedly and had taught many of those passages so often that I could recite them almost verbatim. How could God possibly speak through the same old stories I knew so well?
I look back sometimes, stunned at my ignorance and my arrogance, humbled by the fact that years later when I did put that advice into practice, God did show up in new ways and did work some “mighty works” that astonish me even to this day. Simple words that I had heard thousands of times became at divinely appointed moments portals into paradise. When I finally opened my heart, God showed up in so many unexpected ways and places that I could only stand in awe. Even now, He continues to surprise me on a regular basis.
I would like to claim that I learned my lesson and no longer limit God to my low expectations. But even now I am tempted to put God in a box, expecting Him to answer only in the ways I am familiar with and accustomed to. And sometimes not even that.
Awhile ago my spiritual director suggested that I answer the question that Jesus asks of the blind man (Luke 18:35-43) and in turn to each of us, “What is it that you wish me to do for you?” On one particular morning, I decided to get very specific and spent a long time journaling about various (pretty big) problems in my life and how I hoped He would fix them. I felt better at the end, and thanked God for letting me get it all off my chest.
It was months later, on New Year’s Eve, when I was reviewing my journal that I came upon that list and realized how God had concretely and specifically answered the biggest of my requests! I had been surprised and thrilled and suitably grateful when the gifts had come, but had frankly forgotten that I had been inspired to specifically request them in prayer. How could I have so easily forgotten? If I am honest, I never really expected God to answer me.
That same day, I also enjoyed one of my favorite little traditions, Jennifer Fulwiler’s “Saints Name Generator” and her new “Word of the Year Generator.” Each randomly generates a word or saint for you for the year. I did the Word one first and was given the word “see.” I admit, I was hoping for something a little more personally meaningful—that word did not resonate at all with my past experiences or my hopes for the future. Then I did the Saint generator and was given Saint Cosmos—invoked as patron of the blind and against blindness! Could it be that God has something new to teach me?
There is no divine title “Lord of the Everlasting Same-Old Same-Old.” Rather He promises “Behold I make all things new.”
Let us resolve not to limit God by our experiences or expectations!
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*I chose today the (optional) readings for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker. On the feast day we pray especially for those who are unemployed or underemployed, that they might find meaningful work, and that all workers throughout the world receive a just wage, just working conditions, and be treated with dignity and respect. St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us!
**For those beginning the 30 Day (15 minutes a day) Prayer Challenge, the linked reading to the story of the Blind Man can be a good place to start. Using your bible, read the passage a few times, asking the Holy Spirit to help you, and imagine yourself in the scene, perhaps as the Blind Man (but let the Holy Spirit guide you). Imagine Jesus asking you that same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” and answer Him, speaking as you would to a friend. Let the conversation go wherever it goes (without fear or judgement), asking for help as you need to (Lord, help me to know what it even is that I want…or, Lord, help me to know the deepest desires of my heart…or Lord, help to trust that are even there, that you care enough to hear me speak these desires to you…) When your 15 minutes are up, thank Jesus for your prayer time but do not pass a judgement on “how it went”—trust that all prayer is fruitful, whether or not we experience or feel anything.
If you have questions you are welcome to email me, but please be aware it may take me some time to answer and/or I may try to work answers into future writing as I pray about them (generally, if one person has a question, many others are wondering the same thing).