We humans constantly work at being in control of our lives. We’re not only comfortable scheduling almost every minute of our day; many of us even attempt to map out the entire course of our careers. If we have a destiny in life, it’s to be one of our own making. To say the least, we’re goal oriented.
Spiritual author Fr. Ed Hays encourages us in such a quest, but for a reason quite different from being in control. “Everyone should at least try to schedule his or her day, because it’s in those things, people and events which interrupt our plans that we’ll most notice God entering our lives.” I presume our sacred authors agree with Ed.
They key to understanding such unplanned interruptions is found in today’s gospel pericope. “I give you a new commandment,” Jesus states shortly before his death. “Love one another. Such as my love has been for you, so must your love be for one another.”
Nothing more effectively destroys order in our lives than the decision to love another person. Deeply loving people quickly discover the “disorder” which takes over when they make such a life-changing choice. No matter their “best laid plans,” things rarely work out that way. People who can’t “hang loose” can’t love.
Paul and Barnabas quickly discover this in our Acts passage. When the Christian community in Antioch sends the two apostles on their first missionary endeavor, no one mentions anything about converting Gentiles to the faith. According to this two-chapter narrative, the duo follow the pattern to which all early apostles adhered: they preach only to their fellow Jews. If non-Jews show an interest in their message, it’s understood they’ll have to convert to Judaism before they can become disciples of Jesus.
Yet when Barnabas and Paul come face to face with opposition to their message in the synagogues, they don’t keep hitting their heads against a brick wall. Instead, they turn to those who eagerly accept their good news: Gentiles who have no intention of becoming Jewish converts. Neither do the two Antiochene apostles force them to do so - much to the chagrin of many conservative Christians.
Notice how Luke describes this drastic change in plans. “On their arrival (in Antioch), they called the congregation together and related all that God had helped them accomplish, and how God had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.” Only when their carefully structured plan hit a fatal snag did they begin to surface and recognize God’s plan. The love with which they approached all people forced them to imitate the love with which God approaches all people.
The author of Revelation speaks about the new era our Christian love will bring about. “I, John, saw new heavens and a new earth. The former heavens and the former earth had passed away.... There shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away.”
Obviously if we continue doing the same things in the same way, relate to the same people on the same level, we’ll always have the same old heavens and earth. Only when love interrupts the usual patterns and plans of our everyday lives will anything change for the better.
It’s impossible to know exactly what John’s new world will be like. We can only trust Jesus that our love of one another will bring about something a lot better than we have now.
In a sense, when Jesus promises that we’ll be known as his disciples by our love of one another, he’s likewise promising that we’ll be known as individuals who aren’t in total control of their destiny; a people who don’t mind having their plans overturned by a loving God.