Once upon a time, one young man prayed fervently for a favourable posting at the completion of their Teacher’s Training College programme. Actually, there was one particular location that was generally detested by everyone; a very remote area with very minimal traces of even rural comfort. To ensure that his prayers were heard, he fasted, read the bible and kept himself away from anything he conceived would offend the divine. After few weeks, the posting came out. While he was on his way to the place where the names were published, he kept reassuring himself with these words: “God will not fail me, I prayed well for this!”
On getting to the place, he met some of his mates in jubilation though some were calm but not sad. On checking the list, he got the shock of his life. The place he prayed against was where he was posted and he was to go to that gory location alone. He felt sad and was completely disappointed with God. From that day, he transformed to an atheist. Later on in life, as a principal in one secondary school Molusi College Ijebu-Ode Nigeria, he banned the use of the church hymn book “songs of praise” and every form of prayer to God. When he was disengaged on account of his irreligion, he went ahead to establish the first secular secondary school in Nigeria (Mayflower School) where God is never mentioned and prayer was a taboo. The man in question was Tai Solarin (1922-1994) the self-proclaimed nationalist, secular humanist, and atheist.
“Why is it that we often get different answers to our prayers?” Put in another way “why is it that God gives us answers that were contrary to our requests?” The answer to the above question was given clearly in the First Reading today (Isaiah 55:6-9). Among other things, the oracle of the prophet declared that God’s thoughts are different from our thoughts and his ways are different from our ways. God is often seen as being very “unusual” in his ways.
God does not actually work in an unusual way. The point is that his ways, thoughts and patterns are different from ours and from our limited perspective we see them as unusual. Often we command the All-Powerful, All-Knowing and Ever-present God to obey us without knowing or caring to know His plans for us. That is why some people will command God to punish one person, to fire another, to kill someone and also the judge another and send him or her to hell. There is no doubt that if men were God, just very few people will be surviving on earth only as slaves with extreme fear and palpitation of the heart.
God’s ways, thoughts, and modes of operation are different from ours. The one who found favour in God’s sight was not the first born Cain, but Abel the second son (Gen.4:1-16). Moses, a man of speech impediment was chosen to carry out a leadership role that required great oratory (Gen.4:4). Jacob was allowed to receive the blessings meant for his elder brother Esau (Gen. 27:27). David the youngest of the sons of Jesse was chosen to be the King of Israel (1 Sam 16). Jesus Christ the King of Kings and Lord of Lords was laid in a manger after birth; a facility meant for young animals (Luke 2:7). Furthermore, his place of origin was an insignificant town called Nazareth where no good thing was expected (John 1:46). God’s way is different from our ways. He often chooses the weak to make them strong, or as our Mother Mary would say: “you pulled down the mighty from their seats and raised the lowly” (Luke 1:51-52).
This divine methodology which appears to humans as “unusual” got a better explanation in the gospel of today (Matt.20:1-16). Our Lord gave a parable to illustrate the fact that God’s ways and thoughts are parallel to those of humans. A man had some work to do and he went out to look for labourers at different times in the day. Some he called in the morning, some in the midday, and others in the afternoon and finally some others in the evening, just before the end of the day’s work. One good point in the narrative is that he agreed with each of the groups the amount he would pay them and he also called each of them personally.
By the time of payment, he began with those who came last to pay until he came to those who came first. The significant thing that characterised the payment was that he paid everyone the same amount just as he agreed to pay each at the time of deployment. Problem began when those who came first started murmuring and complaining that they were given the same wage as those who came just one hour before the end of the day’s work.
I see this scenario playing out in the formation to the priesthood especially in the Nigerian context. There were some of us who began from the minor seminary from the age of ten years. Some joined after their secondary school education in other schools. Still others joined after their tertiary education in secular universities and institutions of higher learning. At the end, when candidates are forwarded for ordination no distinction is made between those who started from the minor seminary and others who started at subsequent points.
The Psalmist once said that “God is in heaven and does whatever He wills” (Psalm 115:3). The same is corroborated in Psalm 135:6 where we are told that God does whatever pleased him in heaven, on earth, in the seas and in the depths. Now whatever God does is right and perfect no matter how we humans see it. For instance God allowed His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ to die in a gruesome and painful way on the cross. From our human assessment, his death was inhumane. But that was the will of God. Hence it was worthwhile and good that our Lord Jesus Christ died so that we can be saved and live (1 Thess.5:10).
The divine script is entirely different from the human script. Wisdom consists in our being attentive to the divine script and follow it without complaints. Some of us, like the labourers in the Gospel, act and speak as if we know better than the master. Often we fall into the error of thinking that God is no longer God. Per adventure He has become old and forgetful. We often try to lead God instead of allowing Him to lead us. God is ever active and alive. The world belongs to Him and like we saw above He does whatever He wills including raising up those who are bowed down (Psalm 145:14).
God is not ordinary, that is why His ways and thoughts are extra- ordinary and those who please him are those who do ordinary things in extra-ordinary ways; that is the identity of the saints. Those whose manner of life were worthy of the gospel of Christ as St. Paul wrote in the Second Reading (Phil.1:20c-24.27).
As we match into the new week, let us learn to adhere to God’s faithful directions and accept His designs and scripts; His ways and thoughts that are eternally profitable. Heaven consists in following God’s ways and thoughts just as hell and damnation consists in inattention to His ways and thoughts. May we be guided and guarded by His ways and thoughts always.