Thursday, July 14, 2016

God of the Unexpected

By Colleen O’Sullivan

When Hezekiah was mortally ill, the prophet Isaiah, son of Amoz, came and said to him: “Thus says the Lord: Put your house in order, for you are about to die; you shall not recover.”  Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord.  “O Lord, remember how faithfully and wholeheartedly I conducted myself in your presence, doing what was pleasing to you!” And Hezekiah wept bitterly.  Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah:“Go, tell Hezekiah:…I have heard your prayer and seen your tears.  I will heal you:…I will add fifteen years to your life.”  (Isaiah 38:1-5a,cde)

Jesus was going through a field of grain on the Sabbath.  His disciples were hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat them.  When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “See, our disciples are doing what is unlawful to do on the Sabbath…” “If you knew what this meant, I desire mercy, not sacrifice, you would not have condemned these innocent men.”  (Matthew 12:1-2, 7)

Lord, may I always be open to the unexpected gift of your grace.

So often God is the God of the unexpected.  In our Scripture readings for today, we see this.  Hezekiah, King of Judah, lies on his deathbed in the first reading, The prophet Isaiah visits him with a message from the Lord to put his house in order, for he will not recover from this illness.  Not what the king wanted to hear.  Such a dire prognosis, as it would be for many of us, becomes the occasion for bitter tears. 

As far as the Kings of Judah went, Hezekiah was one of the better ones.  Under his rule, sweeping religious reforms were enacted.  Only the God of the Hebrew people was to be worshipped.  No other gods were recognized.  Sacrifices to idols were strictly prohibited within the Temple.  

In the midst of his weeping, King Hezekiah cries out to God to remember his faithfulness.  And God responds in a most unexpected fashion; God promises his loyal servant healing and fifteen more years on this earth!

How often we experience deaths of many sorts in this life.  Your marriage falls apart.  You lose your job.  Your home is in foreclosure.  You admit to being addicted to alcohol or drugs.  Family members are deported.  You or someone you love dearly faces a health crisis or is told, like King Hezekiah, to get your affairs in order.   In times of trouble, you wonder how you’ll ever survive.  The pain goes so deep.  The fear that this is the end is all-pervasive. 

Yet, look back over your life.  How many times has God taken what felt like the absolute end, what seemed like more than you could bear and, with grace and compassion, coaxed new life from the ashes?  More times than I can count.

Turn to the Gospel reading and Imagine life would have been like as an ordinary person in Jesus’ day.  Life under the Pharisees must have been exceedingly difficult and frustrating.  By the first century, so many little rules and regulations had been added to the Law, with them a constant array of ways in which a person could fail.  And the Pharisees were quick to point out the shortcomings of others. 

But then along comes this itinerant preacher from Nazareth.  And, unexpectedly, God becomes one of us and injects hope into the human situation in the form of his Son, Jesus.  Jesus comes offering mercy and compassion as well as a willingness to shoulder our burdens and walk through life with us. Jesus offers healing and forgiveness of sin.  Ultimately, Jesus offers us the gift of eternal life.  None of this would we have expected from a carpenter’s son from a nowhere village, whose life began in utter poverty in a shelter more suitable for animals.  Our God is truly a God of the unexpected!

When in your life has God unexpectedly turned an ending into a new beginning or showered you with grace and mercy?  Take a few minutes today to thank God for these gifts and for envisioning possibilities for us beyond our wildest dreams.

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