I would like to share a little on the subject of plans today. I have recently been informed by a loved one that I am a planner. While I am pretty sure this is not a clinical diagnosis, it did come across as a bit of an accusation. It certainly began a reflection on how I may be operating, especially in my relationship with the Lord. And, I suppose plans are important. We make them, make a big deal about them, and encourage others, including our children, to make them as well. Today’s Gospel reading is radical, deep, and difficult to understand. So what do I do with the difficulty, the challenging depth? Well honestly, I am tempted to make plans.
Greek men come seeking Jesus, and question Phillip in the hopes of a face-to-face encounter with Jesus. They want to see the Savior. It is an odd passage because naturally, we expect Jesus to be a good person and take some time out to talk to these men. Instead of going to meet these men, it would seem that Jesus ignores them as he begins to reflect on the end of his journey, and things get very heavy. Jesus says, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be.”
Jesus’s words are powerful and demanding! How are we to digest these truths that demand such love? I ask questions like, is this even possible? How can I conquer such selfishness and love for my own will? How can I follow such a loving Savior and become like Him? Don’t I need to get a plan in place here?
The thing is, these words of Jesus just seem too big for our human nature to plan out, and too big a burden for us to carry. Pride and self-love can insist on a plan for our own righteousness at times, or how we will become a Christian ‘success story’. And thus, if we are not careful, we can assume burdens we are not being asked to carry, and we can become bitter, like a parent towards the end of a vacation where ‘everything was all planned out’, but it just so happens the plans were unrealistic, ignored, or obliterated by other people and their own ideas about the way things should unfold.
I am certain that when it comes to progressing spiritually, it is a very good idea to make some basic plans, just like many of our plans during this preparation for Easter. But I think we should also plan to be surprised. God is a God of surprises, not because he wants to catch us off guard necessarily, but because we so often think we have life planned, and thus we can anticipate the results. So one of the great joys, and sometimes pains, is when God turns our plans on their head and they come to naught and we are left with an epiphany. Perhaps he gives us the grace to see the amazing reality of how his plan for our life has unfolded and continues to unfold. Many times, we are humbled. Humility! We see the truth, the reality.
I lived for a time in Macon, Georgia, surrounded by Catholic priests and good friends. I was consistently asked by these people how I could carry out God’s will for my day, if I did not pray. Prayer, consistent prayer, was always stressed in Macon as a preparation for God’s requests for the day. A distinction worth noting is that I was not asked how I would carry out God’s will for my life, but for my day. I was discerning the priesthood. I often rebelled and looked too far ahead at all the possible plans. This was a time filled with confusion because I struggled with the basic plan of one day at a time! By keeping our spiritual life focused on the short term, we drink from the font of mercy, and allow ourselves to be led by the Master. If we look too far ahead, we are sure to become dismayed or led down the wrong path. Jesus was not being rude to the Greeks. He had a miraculous plan in place for the Greeks, purchased at the price of his own life. But, they were required to surrender their own plan and wait patiently on God’s plan to unfold.
Joel Samaha is a husband and father of five living in Augusta, Georgia. He teaches and coaches at a local high school and is a member of the Alleluia Community.