Thursday, June 28, 2012

Man Proposes, but God disposes

Thirteenth Ordinary Sunday Year B

I’m a person who likes to plan ahead. I keep a diary of all my appointments. This, however, does not mean that I’ve never missed an appointment. Getting my dates mixed up and forgetting appointments still plagues me. So, what’s the point of organising my life in the first place? It’s simple - I don’t like surprises. But I also recognise that things often do not go according to plan. Sometimes, when I’ve made an appointment to attend a meeting, I receive a phone call telling me that there is someone sick in the hospital that needs anointing. Or when I’m just about to begin mass, someone comes up to me with a pressing problem that needs attention and I end up reluctantly brushing him aside. There are other times where I am rushing an assignment on my computer, and someone urgently wants to see me. My gaze is torn between giving my full attention to that person and looking at my computer screen with the unfinished work staring back at me.

I am reminded of that famous idiom “Man proposes but God disposes.” Most people think this is a direct quotation from scripture, perhaps from the Book of Proverbs. But the idiom actually comes from a piece of medieval Christian Literature, entitled the “Imitations of Christ” by Thomas A Kempis, which boasts of being the second most read Christian book after the Bible. The full text of the passage from which this idiom emerges sounds like this: "For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand. For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands".

Though extra-biblical, the idiom demonstrates the sovereignty of God’s work in contrast with human planning. It is ironic how we often believe that our plans are able to do for us, what God cannot accomplish in our lifetime. Today, we read in the gospel how Jesus’ plans were also interrupted by two persons in need. Jesus had just arrived at that place and was ready to begin preaching and teaching. The crowds must have been waiting patiently. Suddenly, his plans were interrupted by Jairus, the synagogue official, who pleaded with him to see his daughter who was “desperately sick.” Perhaps, if I was in Jesus’ place I would have told the man: “Can’t you see that I’m busy? I’m about to begin to mass. Can you come back at a later time?” But Jesus does not give this answer. Instead, he immediately gets up and follows Jairus back to his house. I can only imagine the anger and frustration of his audience, now that their preacher has been whisked away to another assignment.

The change in plans was interrupted again by a second incident. Instead of just making a bee-line for the house of Jairus, Jesus makes a critical detour – he is waylaid by another person – the woman who had suffered from a haemorrhage for twelve years. In Jewish society, such a woman was shunned by everyone because she was ritually unclean. This meant that anyone, including her husband or even her children could not touch her or use anything of her personal effects for fear of rendering themselves unclean. This woman, who has been so isolated for the last 12 years and suffering as a result of not only her physical pain but also social and spiritual pain, reaches out to Jesus. She thinks that Jesus would not notice her as the crowds are pressing around Jesus. But Jesus does take notice. Just like many of us who are caught between conflicting needs, Jesus is forced to make a critical decision – move on or stay. Jesus puts aside his planned agenda to visit the house of Jairus and offers time and love to this woman in need. Jesus heals her and returns her to her family and the community.

When Jesus arrives at the house of Jairus, it appears that he has arrived too late - Jairus daughter is already dead. It appears that the unintended delay brought about by attending to the need of the haemorrhagic woman had caused the life of another. But it is never too late for God. Jesus raises the girl from the dead and returns her to her family.

We all can appreciate the inexhaustible value of planning. When following a plan, you can always see how much you have progressed towards your project goal and how far you are from your destination. Knowing where you are is essential for making good decisions on where to go or what to do next. But our need to plan and our insistence with sticking to the plan may betray a more insidious hidden trait or attitude. Human planning may be man’s way of living self-sufficiently, arrogantly without God. Human planning may be our attempt to design a blue print or master plan for the establishment of our kingdom instead of God’s. Human planning is our way of asserting control over our environment, over others, over outcomes and even over God. It takes humility and the ability to embrace our vulnerability to admit that our planning is often flawed and far from being fail-safe.

We can plan for a foreseeable event. But what about the events that are unforeseeable? We are not able to predict every single eventuality in the future, and this can be a cause of great anxiety. For example, coping with expected changes like retirement planning or a planned move can be hard enough. Yet, we can plan ahead to mitigate the impact of these changes because they are foreseeable. Dealing with change that is sudden and unexpected, however, such as the death of loved one who seems perfectly healthy and in the prime of his life, can be devastating. These two gospel stories, therefore, provide an answer to the unexpected twists and turns of life. They are reminders of our human frailty, the limitations of our plans and proposals, and finally the need to let go and trust in God’s providence.

What does the story tell us about God? We derive much comfort from both the stories of Jairus’ daughter and the haemorrhagic woman as they assure us that God always has time for us. God is never too busy with the affairs of the world to hear and notice the plea of a single person even when his cries seem lost in the noise of the crowd. God does not resolve conflicting needs by paying attention to some whilst ignoring others. He always has time for all of us, all the time. But his answer to our prayers comes at the best possible time and in the best possible way, beyond our expectation. Whenever things don’t go according to plan, whenever the answer to our prayers seem delayed, whenever unforeseen turn of events occur in our lives, these do not mean that we have been abandoned by God. God’s plan for each and everyone of us is not so inflexible that he does not make changes in order to accommodate us.

Perhaps, it would be most appropriate to end this homily with this little parable told by none other than the master of suspense, Alfred Hitchcock.   There once was a king who was granted two wishes. His first was to see the future. But when he saw all that lay ahead -- the beauty and the pain -- he immediately asked for his second wish; that the future be hidden. "I thank Heaven," the master of suspense proclaimed, "that tomorrow does not belong to any man. It belongs to God." Indeed, the future belongs to God. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are God’s ways and thoughts higher than yours. There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD. Rely not your personal understanding, counsel of others, and life experiences but trust Him at all times, for all things, with all your heart. No human plan, no programme or contingency, or insurance policy can guard against all the uncertainties of the future. Remember God’s foolishness is wiser than your wisdom, and His weakness is stronger than your strength (1 Cor 1:25-26). Man proposes but it is ultimately God who disposes. And it is comforting and liberating to know this.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Terms of Use: As additional measure for security, please sign in before you leave your comments.

Please note that foul language will not be tolerated. Comments that include profanity, personal attacks, and antisocial behaviour such as "spamming" and "trolling" will be removed. Violators run the risk of being blocked permanently. You are fully responsible for the content you post. Please be responsible and stay on topic.