November 13, 2022; Lk 21:5-19; 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Today’s gospel is filled with vivid and grizzly images about the end of time: wars, famines, plagues, earthquakes, and persecution. Yet buried within today’s gospel is one line that can speak to our experiences today, because it reveals to us something important about God. When Jesus describes the end of time, he tells his disciples that when they are hauled into court, they are not to prepare their defense ahead of time. He, himself, will give them the words to say that no one will be able to refute. Jesus is telling his disciples that they do not need to do anything. He will do it for them. They do not need to find their own words because he will provide for them the words that they require. This truth tells us something about the way that God works in our lives today, because there are times when God is asked independently of our efforts and intentions.
Our former bishop, Bishop Perez, often said, “Sometimes God works with us. Sometimes God works without us. And sometimes God works in spite of us.” Of course, the normal way that God works is with our cooperation, when we attempt to do what is right according to God’s commands. But God is not bound to work with us. God can work without us. This is not to say that God violates our free will. But because God is active in our lives, we can, at times, accomplish good things without intending or trying to do so.
We might decide to spend extra time with our ten-year-old daughter after we come home from work. That closeness to her begins to heal a wound that she received that day from bullying at school, a wound of which we are unaware. We might casually ask an elderly woman to go ahead of us in the check out line. We do not realize that she has been dealing with severe depression and our simple act of kindness has given her the courage to hold on for another day. We might decide to spend some time at a homeless shelter during the holidays. When we begin our service, we find that not only does our personality meld easily with the personalities of the other workers on the staff, but it is somehow able to buffer some of the competition and resentment that the staff holds toward one another. As a result, the homeless shelter is more welcoming and more effective than it has been in many years.
Sometimes God works with us, sometimes without us, and sometimes despite us. Therefore, we should not be surprised when good things happen in our lives that we have not planned or intended. God’s Spirit is always active. Any action of ours could be an action of God—any word, not ours, but the word of God’s Spirit.