In God’s Time
Fifth Sunday of Easter. Fr Rudolf Löwenstein preaches on the image of the vine.
Most of what we read or hear in today’s Gospel presents us with very little difficulty, but there is one particular phrase that can sometimes cause puzzlement to people, however simple or innocuous it sounds: ‘you may ask what you will and you shall get it’.
Now commonly I and many others would take that phrase to mean that if I wanted something enough and asked God for it, then I would get what it is I wanted. However, as many generations of Christians know, that is not always the case. So are God’s words untrue? Is there something about the words that we just do not get or catch on to?
I think that what is left out of the passage is the idea of time: we might ask for something, and certainly get it from God, but we have to remember that God’s time is not necessarily our time. In other words, we might think that we know the best time for receiving something, but we might not always be correct. So God’s will is certainly going to be fulfilled when one of our requests get granted, but in God’s time, and not ours. That might mean the difference of a day, week or month — or perhaps it might be far longer: we have no way of telling when something will happen. All we know is that once one of our requests has been granted it will be at the best possible time.
And what about the cases when our request is never granted? That may seem very tough on us, particular if someone’s health or suffering is involved, and it can be very difficult explaining to other people that in this instance God is not going to give us what we want.
So have the verses of John’s Gospel been contradicted? It would seem so, until we take the words that immediately precede the quote we are using: ‘if you remain in me and my words remain in you’. Of course we are always going to want to remain in God and act according to his words, but perhaps something that we are asking for, good though it may seem is simply not in accordance with God’s will for us. God would never act against his will, so there will be things that simply are not going to happen, however earnestly we beseech God for them.
Once again, the words of the Gospel have not been contradicted at all, although in the first instance they seem to be at variance with our experience of life.
And while we are on the subject of God’s will, there is that very simple word that we need to remember — pruning! ‘My Father is the vinedresser? and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes to make it bear even more’. Of course we all want to grow further in God’s love, and we all want to produce good works for God too — but that means that as we pray ‘thy will be done’ we are laying ourselves open to God our Father pruning us so that we produce more and grow closer to him.
Some pruning is painless and easy to experience — we can enjoy growing closer to God in certain ways like prayer or receiving the sacraments — but the other ways in which God might prune us are not so much fun, as physical or mental suffering can at times be hard to bear.
So we have to remember that God has really taken us at our word for if we asked in his name to do his will, we can be sure that whatever else we go through, it is for God’s sake that we are doing this. And although the current outlook of our lives might appear to be dismal and sad, there will be brighter days ahead; it is just that we cannot yet see these days.
Sometimes that is literally going to be the only consolation we might receive when going through a period of pain or uncertainty, but if we remember that the end result of this period of pruning will enable us to live fuller lives bearing more fruit, then eventually we will able to enjoy far more whatever it is we asked God to do for us!