We are all familiar with plans. There are community plans, family plans, school plans, parish plans, plans at work, travel plans, game plans, and all sorts of other plans. Our days are lived out in them. Even our fun times are planned.
And yet there are some people who can’t stand plans. They want life to be spontaneous and they want to enjoy the surprises that can come when things are impulsive. Other people can’t stand to do anything without a plan; they need a definite structure in their lives.
The world in which we live, with all of its many demands and activities, often requires us to plan ahead. Few people have the luxury of taking an unplanned holiday. Most people today can’t get away unless they plan weeks, months, and even years ahead. Likewise, it’s almost impossible to secure the services of a tradesman unless you book him weeks or months in advance.
In today’s gospel we hear how the apostles have just returned from a preaching tour and they tell Our Lord about all they had been doing. And Our Lord said to them: “You must come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while’; for there were so many coming and going that the apostles had no time even to eat. So they went off in a boat to a lonely place where they could be by themselves.” The apostles obviously needed a break, so Our Lord decided they would all go away and get some rest and relaxation.
And so they climb into a fishing boat and begin rowing out across the lake, the boat gliding along the smooth waters with only the sound of the oars dipping in the water. Peace at last, along with the prospect of finding a quiet place on the other side where they could unpack their picnic, sit and talk, and quietly have time to share stories and listen to what Jesus had to say.
It was a great plan; but as they approach the opposite shore they saw a large crowd and heard the noisy voices of people like those heading into a stadium. You can imagine how the apostles felt. They may have been annoyed. Their plans for a quiet day were suddenly unravelling.
Life is like that. Our best laid plans and our most cherished moments are too often stolen from us. Resentment, frustration, and even anger can suddenly erupt on these occasions.
And so how do we react when our plans are either interrupted or completely upturned? How do we react when people frustrate our plans? Do we get resentful and make life miserable for those around us? Do we allow our resentments to lash out at those we love and care for?
When you stop and think about it, Our Lord took many setbacks and converted them into occasions for good. For example, he took a lawyer’s tricky question and in His response He gave us the wonderful parable of the Prodigal Son. Hanging on the Cross, dying in agony, Our Lord asked His Father to forgive those who had nailed Him to that Cross. Here, in today’s gospel, He got out of the boat even though He was weary and needed a break, waded into the crowd, and gave them valuable lessons and teachings about life: “So as he stepped ashore he saw a large crowd; and he took pity on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he set himself to teach them at some length.”
I am struck by the stories of numerous famous artists and musicians, people who had suffered terrible losses either through physical illness or at the hands of others, things that totally interrupted their lives. Some of our finest works of art and music have come from them. They rose to heights of creativity when faced with their shattered plans, hopes, and dreams. I’m sure you can think of some people in your own lives who have responded to life’s terrible losses not with bitterness and sullen resentfulness but with the same attitude of Jesus when He was faced with His own shattered plans.
We need to remember that God’s agenda and our agenda might not be exactly the same. After all, God has His plans for us and when they come to bear in our lives we might have to make some adjustments. Giving God resentment and sullen indifference might not be the best response to make. After all, where is it written that we are entitled to live an easier and more problem-free life than Jesus? Where is it written that our plans are never to be changed?
As we get older we discover that God is the God of surprises, just as He is the God who gives us unplanned opportunities to show what we’re made of and to respond to Him in patience, humility, and with love.
We all have plans, but at the same time we must remember that God has His plans too.