September 24, 2015
Father Charles Puthota
At the Mass on Oct. 13, 2014 at St. Martha guesthouse in the Vatican, Pope Francis reflected on the God of surprises. Referring to the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ time, the pope said: “They had perfectly organized the law, a masterpiece. All of the Jews knew what one could or could not do, how far they could go. Everything was organized. And they were safe there.” The pope went on to say that when they witnessed Jesus’ table-fellowship with the sinners and tax collectors, they considered that the doctrine of the law was in danger: “They forgot that God of the law is also the God of surprises…. They did not understand that God is always new…that he always surprises us. And they did not understand, and closed themselves in this system created with the best of intentions….They forgot that they were a people on a journey. And when we set out on a journey, when we are on a path, we always discover new things, things we did not know before.”
The word of God this Sunday inspires us to look at our God as infinitely capable of surprising us. This quality of God stems from his deep abiding love, infinite mercy, genuine interest in our happiness, desire for our fulfillment, incredible generosity, and his sense of humor. As Rick Warren says, “What surprises me most about God is that the creator of the universe should want a relationship with me.” Often our attitude may be: “Dear God, what do you have in store for me next? Please no more surprises! Love, Me.” Pope Francis reminds us that we are to be ready for God’s surprises.
In the reading from the Book of Numbers, God bestows the spirit not only on Moses, not only on the 70 elders, but also on the two men who do not even make it to the tent! Unhappy, Joshua hopes that Moses will stop them. But Moses understands the God of surprises, the God of marvelous deeds in Egypt and of the Exodus journey, and wishes that everyone became a prophet and anointed by the spirit.
The Gospel continues the theme of the God of surprises. John is upset that an outsider is driving out the demons and prevents him from doing so. Jesus’ surprises John: “Whoever is not against us is for us.” God gives everyone the power and grace to be good and to do good. Only many of us do not channel it effectively for the service of others. James’ strong letter about wealth and injustice stirs us up about the need for using God’s blessings in a spirit of service and stewardship. God has surprised us with incredible gifts and blessings, which we are to share with others for the glory of God, the building up of the church, and the transformation of the world.
God’s most amazing surprise is Jesus who became one with us so we can become one with God. He knows our feelings and thoughts, our struggles and temptations. The resurrection of Jesus and the Pentecost were astounding surprises only God could fashion for our freedom and power, now and forever.
Are we perceptive of God’s surprises? Through our personal salvation history and in the life of the church and the world, we cannot miss our God who loves us with love beyond telling. Are we not surprised by how God has cared for us and led us safely to this day despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles? Pope Francis’ current apostolic visit to the United States inspires us to experience God who surprises us with his love and grace. And let us surprise ourselves and others by being surprised by God!
Father Puthota is pastor of St. Veronica Parish, South San Francisco.