I won’t mention Sister Danielle by name. I don’t want to embarrass her.
We were discussing our ministries of preaching and teaching, and I was wondering if my ministry made a difference. I said that preaching was like walking through the water. You look back and there are no footprints. You wonder if it mattered.
So she told me a story from her life. She had always loved teaching poor children, but one of her assignments took her to an ‘upscale’ school in New York. Here CEOs and U.N. personnel sent their children for the finest education.
Sister remembered one particular girl who really didn’t want to be in the school. She tried everything she could to be expelled. She did drugs and acted out in various ways. But Sister Danielle would always call her in, and essentially give her the same talk: “You’re not going to get thrown out of here. God gave you a wonderful brain. God put you here on earth to fulfill his plan. You’re going to use that brain, and you’re going to fulfill God’s plan”
Many years later there was a reunion at the school. This particular girl was there. The girl who hated school, and wanted to be expelled, was now in a Ph.D. program! She had spent all of her young adulthood as a teacher in poor inner city schools. Again and again when children would act out or want to drop out, she would tell them: “God gave you a good brain. God has a plan for you. You’re going to use that brain and become what God had dreamed for you.” She was repeating what Sister had told her. The gift of faith and hope was being passed on.
I thought of that story as I pondered the events in the life of Jesus. As we prepare to celebrate Holy Week, could not similar thoughts have occurred to Jesus? That famous quote of Jesus when he said: “But, when the Son of Man comes, will he find any faith on earth?” Obviously, Jesus in his humanity would have had his doubts. The events of Holy Week certainly highlight many of those misgivings. The crowd that will cheer Jesus on Palm Sunday will jeer him on Good Friday. Human approval is a false god to worship. Jesus knew only too well the sentiment: “Laugh and the world laughs with you. Weep and you weep alone.”
And weeping alone is precisely what Jesus would do after the Last Supper! He would be alone, sweating blood, and his three most trusted apostles, Peter, James, and John were asleep.
And the next day, hanging on a cross, an instrument of extreme torture, and held up for ridicule by everyone, Jesus would die.
To say the least, it would seem that Jesus’ life hadn’t mattered. His worst fears had happened.
And, yet, like the girl in the story, here we are. Two thousand years later, we’re telling other people what he told us. Here we are still doing what he said – “Do this in memory of me.” We are still breaking bread, offering lives of service, allowing the Gospel to live on in us and through us.
As we age, we tend to worry about our young people – children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, friends and extended family. We may be concerned about their marriages, their not going to church, their choice of companions or drugs, or whatever.
Yet, like Jesus, we may not live in our earthly form long enough to see the rest of the story. Life did turn around for the girl. Sister’s efforts were not in vain. The apostles did return. Jesus’ life and efforts were not in vain. The Gospel has lasted through the centuries. The efforts of consecutive generations of faith have not been in vain.
Many of us are prone to worry and anxiety. I think that’s ‘hard wired’ in my unconscious mind. Yet, the power of God is greater than our mind or our programming. We can “do all things through Christ who strengthens us”. And one of the things we can do is to trust. To trust that the words of the old Spiritual are true: “God didn’t bring us this far to leave us now!”
We do what we can and then we let go of what we can’t. There is no more profound line of basic spirituality than: “Let go and let God! We are not letting go in despair. We are letting go in faith.
It didn’t look so good for that girl in high school years ago. It didn’t look so good on the cross on that Good Friday 2,000 years ago. Things may not look so good in our lives at this moment. But we see with human eyes. Why not trust God’s vision? Why not let the God of surprises, surprise us!