What kinds of things do you expect from God? Are you sure you're on the right track?
by Kathryn M. Cunningham, MAPS | Source: Catholic.net

         All of us harbor expectations.  They are thoughts for the future, wishes, fantasies, predictions, opinions based on realities or desires based on past promises from someone else.  Expectations are integral to human nature.  They come from the place in the hidden depths of our heart where hope is generated and God can breathe life into even the tiniest and weakest ember.  You’ve probably heard the phrase: “Hope springs eternal.”  This phrase originated in 1732, in an essay by Alexander Pope, and persists in our lexicon today.  Expectations can be individual or held by a people in common.  This was the case for the Diaspora of the Israelites in a time when things were not looking too good.  For literally hundreds of years they had held their expectations for what their Savior would look and act like when he appeared, as God promised them as well as free them from all opression. 

         Then he was here, an iterate preacher who did everything opposite of any expectation that any Jew ever had about how the promised savior would look, act and speak!  The Jews had known Kings before; Saul, David, Solomon, Jehoshphat, Jeroboam and others.  Their past experience taught them that a king was a person who would defend, to the death, their right as a people to practice the Law of God as it was handed down to Moses.  In those days, that meant direct confrontation with tribes of pagans and ultimate victories for the chosen people of Israel.  A King was someone who did not shy from conflict and dispatched, with ferocity, any peoples who disagreed and refused to have an instant change of heart.  Now there was this “Jesus”.  Some say that he is the promised Messiah, but how could this possibly be? The direct confusion of the Chosen people about “this Jesus” came directly from their expectations.  We cannot minimize the fact that their ideas were formed in over several hundred years.  The Israelites’ expectations about their once and final king came from what they had known before.  But we must remember that you cannot typecast God.  He is the God of surprises and the final king that he had in mind for his chosen people looked nothing like what the Jews experienced in the past.  In all of history and up to the arrival of Jesus, the Jews related to everything in terms of “The Law”.   It was of course the “thing” that they had that no other people ever received from God himself.  It was what set them apart and made them more special than any other race or tribe on the face of the earth.  It was "golden".  In all of history no other people had actually been handed the Law written with God’s own hand and given to their chief prophet.  So everything that the Jews thought about or did or prayed or worked or cleaned or cooked or ate was done in terms of “the Law”.   For a Jew, to keep the Law was the only thing that mattered.  Obeying the law meticulously was the only way that a human could relate to the great Jehovah.  The idea of a person to person God did not exist.  In order to please God and follow his way it was necessary to perfectly perform endless rituals as prescribed by the priests. The Jews expectations of God were formed in this milieu. 

         When Jesus arrived on the scene and began his public ministry it was soon obvious that he did not fit into any definition that the Jews had of God or Savior.  He did not preach the “Law” as the ultimate be all and end all.  He did not declare that all unbelievers were lost.  He did not wage war on perceived enemies.  In fact he did not consider the use of force as any element of his ministry.  Rather he began instructing about the love of God, how He loves us and how mercy would be freely given to anyone who loved God, acknowledged their sin and did their best to follow his way.   This persona was unlike anything that the Jews had ever seen including Moses and all of the kings, prophets and priests who followed him.   It was an immediate and blatant challenge to their long held expectations.   The Jews were sure that their “new King” would appear with weapons and armies blazing, ready to eliminate all the enemies of God and take charge, literally. The emerging ministry of Christ did not even slightly resemble this description.  For that reason the controversy arose and persists to this very day. As far as the Jews were concerned, Jesus was definitely NOT the long awaited Messiah. 

         Expectations can be a blessing or a curse.  No matter what we do, we cannot eliminate hope or the idea of expectation from the human psyche.  That is not necessarily a bad thing.  Hope will move us forward when there is nothing else left.  It is the force that drives all who survive in impossible circumstances.  But when we have hope or expectations which involve what God should or could do, we need to proceed with caution.  Because we are mere humans all of our hopes are narrowly defined.  We have a small view of a larger picture while God is the originator of the entire vista.  He is the God of surprises and often has things up his sleeve that have never even occurred in our thought patterns!  If we are to exercise our expectation in relation to what God will do we actually need to move from hope to trust.  God has every skill and desire to take our hope and make it blossom into things that we never even imagined could exist.  Our insistence that the only thing that should transpire is what we have hoped for, severely limits God.  In Matthew’s Gospel  (9:1-8) we see that Jesus pardons a paralytic’s sins, the most incredible gift that God can give.  However after perceiving that the Pharisees are judging his action, he also grants the man a visible healing; “Rise, pick up your mat and go home”.  The whole scene was nothing that anyone expected, literally.  Would the paralytic have been better off with only his body healed and the promise of heaven lacking?  You decide. 

         If your expectations, in regard to what God has or hasn’t done, are causing you stress, anger, disappointment or depression, then it’s time for you to take another look at what you expect.  Are your expectation based on “old information”?  Have you formed your expectations based only on what is good or comfortable only for you?  Have you prayed about what to pray for?  Do you recognize the difference between your needs and your wants?  Have you considered the mercy of God for all parties in your prayer? Do you expect God to conform his will to yours or are you willing to allow God to totally take the lead?  Do you expect that every time you pray for God to take some action, it will always make you “happy”?  A dear priest friend of mine once told me that whenever he prays for something he adds this: “God, if I have asked for anything that is not in your will, I give you permission to correct me and show me the error.” (Father Paul Burak, Archdiocese of Chicago)  We cannot have perfect expectations, but if we are willing to trust God in combination with the little that we do know, we can expect great things to blossom.  Expectations formed in the crucible of love and trust should bring joy and surprise beyond our limitations! Don’t put yourself in a place where you miss the abundant blessings of God because you have unfounded expectations.  That would be a great sadness for you as well as the Father.  

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Copyright©2010, Kathryn M. Cunningham, All Rights Reserved. 

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