This homily based on last Sunday's reading originally appeared in Connect magazine
Whenever we take on a big project, we have to put some contingency plans in place. If everything works out perfectly, if everyone shows up and does their job, then we can implement Plan A. If, however, someone calls out sick or the computer system is down, we have to settle for Plan B. Plan A is always the best case scenario when everything functions smoothly. Plan B is not as good as Plan A, but will take effect just in case something goes wrong.
Because he is infinitely creative, God has a different way of implementing his big project of salvation. For God, when Plan A fails to work because of human sinfulness and weakness, his Plan B is not an inferior fall back. Rather, Plan B turns out to be even more wondrous than Plan A. In fact, even God's Plan Z is superior to his Plan A. God does not suffer setbacks in the working out of his plan to reconcile all things in Christ.
We see this illustrated in the readings for the Seventh Sunday of Easter. In the first reading from the book of Acts, Peter mentions Judas' betrayal of Jesus. No doubt Jesus' Plan A for Judas was that he, like the other apostles, be a witness to his resurrection and work to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth. But Judas, in his weakness, falls prey to doubt and greed. Then God's Plan B went into effect. Judas would now become instrumental in Jesus' death for the salvation of the world. This by no means makes Judas a hero. Rather, it shows that God's plan is fulfilled despite human sin and weakness.
The whole history of salvation can be understood in this light. At the Easter Vigil, during the Exultet, we rejoice in the "happy fault" of Adam because it sets in motion the plan of salvation in Christ. Without Adam's fall, we would have no need of a savior. God has willed from the beginning that human beings cooperate with him in the spreading of the kingdom. Our human weakness does not frustrate or hamper God's will. On the contrary, in some mysterious way, it actually advances his will. God maintains control all the while. Jesus made this clear throughout his passion when he let it be known that his life was not being taken from him, but that he was freely laying it down. Similarly, both Peter in the first reading and Jesus in the gospel state that Judas was "destined" to betray Jesus because his actions had already been mysteriously accounted for in God's saving plan.
This is important for us to keep in mind today. As individuals and as a Church, we will be continually beset by difficulties and challenges. We will fail, and sometimes dramatically to the point of scandal. In the eyes of the world, we are on the brink of collapse and irrelevance. Yet God's plan of salvation is mysteriously working itself out in our lives and in our world. The gospel is being handed on to a new generation of witnesses. Minds and hearts are converted to the truth. The sick and the poor are being comforted. God is dwelling among his people through love. This does not mean that we may grow complacent about our sinfulness or about our Church's constant need for reform. Instead it means that we pray and work with the confidence that God has everything under control.
This is developed even further in the gospel reading. Through his prayer, Jesus gives his disciples a peak into his intimate relationship with the Father. Jesus wants them to know that he has been protecting them and will continue to do so even after he is gone from this world. This text has been called Jesus' "high priestly prayer" because it shows us that he is constantly interceding to the Father on behalf of his people. While we tend to picture Jesus as the one who receives our prayers, we do not often focus on him as one who prays for us. Yet that is precisely what he does, offering himself continually to the Father on our behalf. What confidence it should give us to know that the Son of God himself is supporting us in prayer!
In the course of the prayer, Jesus asks that his disciples be protected from the evil one while they remain in the world. Throughout his gospel, John uses the term "world" to describe all the forces opposed to God and his will. In our day, we would identify these forces as those, among others, who exploit the poor, corrupt the young with a materialistic worldview or promote the objectification of women. In our struggle against evil, we can often feel overwhelmed by their vast influence and resources. But when we consider the sovereignty of God's will and the power of our Savior's intercession, we realize that no matter how dire it may look, it really isn't even a fair fight! Even when we appear to fail, God's kingdom mysteriously advances as we are equipped with the Spirit of Truth.
And so our approach to this world is not one of hatred or defiant opposition, but love. If God can make good come from our failings and weaknesses, he can also demonstrate his power and sovereignty even through those who do not recognize him.
Furthermore, it was for this world that Jesus came, not to condemn it but to save it. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said that before we can hope to change people, we must love them; and they must know that we love them. The second reading reminds us that if we have experienced God's love by way of forgiveness and mercy, then we must show love to others. When we love, God dwells in us, and the invisible God is then seen in us. And wasn't that God's Plan A to begin with - that his image be perfected in us through love?