What Is Normal?

The weather is always a subject of conversation especially when you live in the northeastern part of the United States. Yesterday we had the coldest Memorial Day in 14 years. The high temperature was 61 and that was just after midnight. Throughout the day, the unofficial start of summer, we had intermittent showers and temperatures struggling to reach the mid 50s.

I remember a conversation I was part of during the winter. We were leaving work and of course talking about the weather. I said these warm temperatures we are having are not normal. One of my fellow elevator travelers said something that summed up the weather and much of life: “What is normal?”

Over the past couple of weeks there have been things happening that we would have said and hopefully can still say, “That isn’t normal!” There was the incident in Times Square where 23 pedestrians were mowed down, one young lady killed, by a motorist seeking to end his own life. Then 23 people were killed and 116 were injured by a suicide bomber in Manchester, England, leaving a concert where teenagers and children had just had a good time. Then Coptic pilgrims were shot down when ISIS terrorists stopped their bus and 29 people on their way to worship had their lives ended and many more were injured. I could go on, but I will end with the two men who were stabbed to death and another was badly injured, while defending two Muslims girls who were being terrorized by a white supremacist in Portland, Oregon.

It seems these things used to be the exception not the rule, but daily, it seems, someone shoots, another bombs, another has road rage, or another commits suicide taking many lives other than his or her own. What is normal?

Today’s Gospel reading comes from John 17:1-11. These words are part of Jesus’ prayer right after the Last Supper and immediately before he is arrested. I love this prayer, and of course it continues on past verse 11. Read it below from the New Revised Standard Version:

After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

“I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them. And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

What does this prayer have to do with the “new normal?” Bishop Robert Barron in his Daily Gospel Reflection this morning brings it all together for me.

“…Jesus’ prayer in today’s Gospel sums up his wonderful work as he prepares to return to his Father. Jesus was, in his very person, the meeting of heaven and earth. God and humanity came together in him, and his entire ministry was the outward expression of that inward identity. By calling a scattered Israel to unity, inviting the poor to table fellowship, healing the sick in body and heart, and embodying the path of forgiveness and love, Jesus was bringing God’s will and purposes to earth.

“But then in his passion and death, Jesus brought heaven all the way down. He carried the divine light into the darkest places of the human condition: hatred, cruelty, violence, corruption, stupidity, suffering, even death itself. And by exposing them to the light of God, he thereby transformed them. Ultimately, what proves that heaven is able to transform earth is, of course, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

“We often think that cruelty, hatred, violence, fear, suffering, and death are the most powerful forces in the world. But through Jesus’ resurrection, we now know that the divine love is more powerful. God’s kingdom has, in principle, broken the kingdoms of the world, which thrive upon and in turn produce those very negativities.”

Where do we go from here? Jesus said to his disciples and to us, especially as we look around at this “normal” that is so unnerving, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid” (John 14:27, NRSV).

Jesus promises peace. It’s not the kind of peace we look from other sources. We don’t have to be flummoxed by the ebbs and flows of the news cycle. (But I still agonize!) God’s divine love is more powerful than any other force. God’s kingdom has broken in and we are invited to live in that reality.


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