Graduation is a wonderful time for young people and their parents to dream big, whether you’re graduating from pre-school, middle school, high school, college, or grad school. When you have a whole lifetime ahead of you, the possibilities are bright, shiny, and limitless. Well, that’s what we’re told anyway. And soon you discover you should have paid better attention in that one class with an ogre of a teacher because you now fall short of the prerequisites for that dream program you are convinced will bring you fame and fortune, or those physical fitness standards will forever be beyond your reach, or you will need to make some major readjustments to your calendar, or the planets will need considerable realignment, or you will need a glowing recommendation from the pope, or you will need pigs to take to the skies and commence navigating the jet stream.
A point soon arrives in every person’s life when reality will have to take the driver’s seat. The possibilities were ambitious and amazing and totally far out while they lasted, but the alternatives would just have been prohibitive and indefensible—like embracing a lifetime of student debt, or missing out on lucrative job opportunities, or passing up on wedded bliss with the “moon of your life” or “your sun and stars.” Soon you come face to face with realities that are no longer subject to change. Maybe they once were, but that time is long past. Either you embrace what is, or forever live in denial, neither being true to yourself nor becoming what you claim to be.
On a personal level, we look back on our journey and applaud ourselves for the battles we have won, the heights we have scaled, and the obstacles we have conquered. But we also must resign ourselves to that which did not come to pass, loves we’ve lost, opportunities that fizzled, and circumstances that got the better of us. If it seems worth another attempt, we brace ourselves for as many rounds of sleepless nights, increased heart rate, and general tension we think we can stomach. So when we finally decide it’s high time the next generation take the reins, we calmly content ourselves with whatever is within arm’s reach from wherever we’re sitting on the living room couch, or convince some innocent bystander to bring it to us on a silver platter.
The trouble is, we also belong to human groups and collectives. And things like dreams and expectations that we might ordinarily regard as personal are no longer ours alone. It’s likely we will find other people with similar sympathies, but it’s just as likely we will find others who will be opposed, some mildly, others more vehemently. Such was the predicament that mired the early church, when Paul and Barnabas decided they would proclaim the Gospel to people outside the Jewish faith. The Christian church did not yet exist. So maybe it was impulsive at the time, or maybe it was a stroke of genius. But if we still believe that our God is ultimately Lord of history, and accomplishes his will both in the unfolding of that same history and in spite of it, it makes absolute sense that the heavenly Jerusalem in the book of Revelation will have city gates that open in every direction, because our God offers salvation to all people. And they were right to claim it was the Holy Spirit’s decision to impose no further burden on the Gentiles.
Discerning God’s will for the church is a little more involved than discerning God’s will for oneself. Because other people are going to be greatly affected, we all will need to listen to what everyone has to say, patiently, lovingly, compassionately. And until God himself breaks through the heavens to definitively render a decision, it is up to us to figure things out as we straddle the fine line between remaining faithful to what we know to be God’s will and listening right this moment to God’s voice. Yes, there will be tension. Yes, there will be tears. But there will also have to be compromise, and forgiveness, and levity, and lots and lots of “come to Jesus” moments. If we truly intend to remain faithful to the Lord’s command that we love and support and care for one another, if we sincerely desire the peace that Jesus offers us—not some utopia of armed-to-the-teeth vigilantism advocated by self-confessed anarchists who trust no one but themselves, if we are truly committed to discerning God’s will and acting on it, we cannot turn our backs, shut our ears, and walk away. It is this singular human flaw that has fragmented and continues to splinter the human family. Dreams and possibilities are good to have. But at some point, we must embrace our reality and make it work.
Do you know how long human beings have been on the planet? A rough estimate places modern humans somewhere between 1—300,000 years. Going back farther to our ancestors, primitive humans may have been around for six million years. It’s hard to tell how much different we are today from all those other people, but if Jesus still had to command us to love one another 2,000 years ago, I’d have to say probably not much. And considering it’s a shorter distance between Jesus and us than between the first humans and Jesus, maybe there’s still hope.
God determined he needed to intervene in human history. So Jesus Christ was born of a virgin in a stable at Bethlehem. Anecdotal accounts of decent upright people doing what they can in the Old Testament indicates it’s mostly an uphill battle, but we have reason to not give up if God hasn’t given up yet either. And although we still struggle to get it right, to get along and build a better society, we still need to be reminded of exactly what God wants to accomplish, so we don’t stray too far afield.
The image of the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven gleaming with the splendor of God tells us that God means to establish his dwelling among us. Elsewhere in Jesus’ Last Supper discourse in the gospel of John, he said he would come back and take us to himself, so that we would be where he is. But there is no indication exactly where he means to take us. Ultimately, we know that if he means to bring us all in one place, either he imposes such measures that we are forced against our will to live together in harmony, or we choose to do so ourselves willingly and sincerely.
“Whoever loves me will keep my word.” The message Jesus brings is the Father’s offer of mercy and reconciliation. It has been his message from the start. And the Holy Spirit is sent to teach us everything. “Peace I leave with you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” We might be a long way from the people God calls us to be, but we must begin somewhere, face our challenging reality, listen to each other, and not walk away. And if we sincerely discern God’s will, and attempt honestly to live it, it won’t even make the news when the day finally arrives, and pigs have taken to flight.
Rolo B Castillo © 2019
John 14: 23
John 14: 27