I have a nephew fresh out of high school whom I call a “master-builder.” The reason for this title is that since he was very young he could build anything using Lego blocks. What is so genius about this is his gift to take what once was a Lego kit designated to be a “pirate ship” and he could use these pieces for a completely different purpose in building a sophisticated castle or a rocket ship or anything his imagination could conjure up. I admire my nephew for his gift to translate an “idea” in his mind into something concrete using Lego!
It dawned on me that God does the very same thing. Our God is a master-builder, a planner, a designer, and God’s “Lego blocks” are the stuff of our very lives. The purpose and intentions of our life seem to often go astray, or at least in a direction that was unexpected. If we were to remember the plans we made for our lives, the choices we made and the goals we sought, and then compare this with what actually happened along the way, we would have to agree that many “surprises” took us in a different direction or caused us to radically change course.
Many people think God has a “holy blue print” designed for each of us, and our task is to pray hard enough, do enough penance, and surrender more completely so the day will come when we can truly see this “blue print” and obediently follow it. But what happens as we move forward? Life happens! Health issues arise, people we love and care for die. We lose our job or face difficult financial pressures. Others we have trusted betray us. We may be tempted to despair that God even attends to our situation at all.
It is often through these dark times that we are asked to walk in trust that God walks with us, near us, and, through our broken dreams, God builds a new plan. Hearing our crying out, God gets creative and designs with us a new life! That is why we can pray with the Psalmist today: “Be with me Lord when I am in trouble, be with me Lord, I pray.”
On a personal note, the poignant irony of this Psalm is that a friend who taught me to sing it many years ago has just lost a six-year-old daughter to cancer. You want to know that my friend sings this Psalm with a depth of suffering few of us reach.
A deeper question is always asked by one with a broken heart: “Where is God in all of this tragedy and pain?” St. Paul answers this as a person whose plans were constantly altered by life and who endured tremendous suffering. In the second reading this Sunday we will hear Paul proclaim to the Romans: “The Word is near you, on your lips, in your heart.”
God is close. This is where our identity lies as Christians, in a God who is close to us. This is why the first reading from Deuteronomy is all about identifying God’s actions in both our personal and corporate history. “A wandering Aramean was my father.” It is the recounting of the story of God’s closeness to the People of Israel through their slavery in Egypt, their rush to freedom and the blessing of a land they can call home. This is a mark on the heart of a believer of what the promise of God is all about: “I will be with you . . . even in the hard times.”
It is with this special backdrop in mind that our Gospel story of Jesus in the desert with the devil unfolds. All of the promises of the devil are meant to supplant the deeper promise of God, promises of bread from stones, worldly kingdoms as a reward for worshipping the devil, challenging God to rescue him by throwing himself off a cliff.
All of this is tempting when you are hungry, alone, feeling powerless and about to embark on a dangerous mission. Jesus hangs onto the promise of his Father, that he would stay near even through his suffering. It was from this desert that Jesus breaks into a public ministry with all the resolve of a son who knows his father’s promise.
We have begun a 40-day journey to Holy Week. We are asked to take the time to ponder our identity, as People of the Promise. We are asked to face with humble honesty the hurts in our life, both caused by others and those we have inflicted. However, on a deeper level, we are asked to see the hand of God that has delivered us from our slaveries, our attraction to power, and our tight-fisted holding of resentments. It is the divine mercy of a God that will lead us to real freedom. God will be with us always, in the person of Jesus. This creative God will take the shambles and chaotic circumstances of our “Lego” lives and together we will build something beautiful, something gifted and something eternal! What a Master-builder is our God!
Williston is a retired Parish Life Director for the Diocese of Saskatoon and a former missionary with the Redemptorists. He is also a song writer and recording artist.