“HAVE YOU EVER RUN AWAY FROM GOD?” (Lk 11:29-32): 13 February 2008 (Wednesday)
The TV series “Joan of Arcadia” is about some kind of modern-day Joan of Arc, Joan Girardi, a high school girl who, like the first Joan, can hear God speak, but more than that, actually bumps into him once in a while and gets to speak with him! Of course It takes her a while before she actually gets used to the idea, especially because God looks different each time. Part of the fun in watching “Joan of Arcadia,” in fact, is that you never know when and what form God will choose the next time he appears to Joan and what seemingly trivial task he will ask Joan to do (He calls them “errands.”). The task, of course, always turns out to be an important mission.
But the very first time God introduces himself to Joan Girardi in the pilot episode of “Joan of Arcadia,” she obviously mistakes him for some crazy guy. She tells him to get lost, and promptly turns around–walking out on God. What does God do? He just patiently looks at Joan as she walks away and waits for a next time.
The prophet Jonah actually did something similar to Joan. Only, God’s reaction was a little stronger. When God asked him to go to Nineveh to be his prophet there, Jonah fled. He boarded a ship and sailed the other way! But this time God didn’t exactly just wait for a next time. He cooked up a storm, and to make a long story short, that’s how Jonah ended up in the belly of the whale. This is one of those times that portray God as practically hounding and nagging someone to do his will!
In the gospel reading today, our Lord speaks to the crowd of the “sign of Jonah.” Biblical scholars interpret this as the Lord’s resurrection, symbolized by Jonah’s three days in the belly of the whale. But today, let me venture my own interpretation: Maybe the sign of Jonah is also about God’s persistent pursuit of the prophet–and that’s the sign that we will be given by the Lord: He embodies God’s refusal to take our “No” for an answer–not that he will force us and make us do things against our will, but that he will never give up even if we flee from him like that Old Testament reluctant prophet.
The question I ask today is: “Have you ever run away from God?” Or here’s an alternative question: “Have you, like Joan in the series, ever walked out on God?”
Confession time: My answer is “Yes”–to both questions!
When I was in high school, a priest in our school asked me if I had considered becoming a priest. I gave him what I thought was a politically correct answer. I said, “I’m open, Father, but I’m waiting for a sign.” The wise, old priest smiled at me knowingly and said, “Don’t ask for a sign. Ask for openness.” But before I could tell him that he was being unfair, he added, “And don’t make God beg!”
It was very clever emotional blackmail if you ask me, but I’m proud to say it didn’twork. I didn’t ask for openness. On the contrary! After graduating from high school, the first chance I got, I fled the other way! I was eager to discover the world out there. Before I knew it, I had turned into a “lapsed Catholic”–at first, missing Sunday Mass only once in a while, and then, eventually just deciding to give it up altogether.
We know how one thing leads to another, don’t we? Before I knew it too, I had basically decided to live for myself, exploring the world on my own, following my own rules and breaking everyone else’s–including God’s. I had basically walked out on God. I think at the time I was in real danger of losing my soul, and looking back now, I regret every moment of it and wish I hadn’t taken such a detour.
I still don’t understand what happened, but again before I knew it, God moved and found me. Did he cook up a storm? Did he send a whale to swallow me and keep me in its belly? Or did he simply wait for the right “next time” to extend another invitation? I think it was all of the above. Whatever he did, it worked–and I’m grateful he went out of his way to find this lost sheep.
That’s the thing with God. He doesn’t give up on us even if we run away from him. He waits for us even if we walk out on him.
And at the appropriate time, if he must, he has been known to give chase.
Here’s a Quick Question: “Have you ever run away from–or walked out on–God? How did God respond?” Think about it, and share a thought, a feeling, or a question.
(image: from “Joan of Arcadia”)
Note: I’ve uploaded the opening of “Joan of Arcadia” (from YouTube) in case you want to watch it. It features the song “One of Us.”