24th Sunday in Ordinary Time reflection by Patrick Sinozich

Who is God? Who do you say God is? What do you say God is?
Who is Jesus? Who do you say that he is?
What did you think about Jesus when you were a child?
Who do you now expect Jesus to be?

Once, at the beginning of a summer job, my supervisor asked me, “What are your expectations?” I replied, “I don’t have any expectations.” He countered, “We always have expectations.”

So many times in my life I didn’t examine my expectations, whether it was about a new job, or traveling with someone for the first time, opening an unread book, or waking up and thinking about the day ahead. It’s not that I didn’t have any expectations, I just wasn’t conscious of them, I wasn’t looking for them. I suppose I’ve never really thought that expectations had anything to do with journeying through life. I like to think of myself as “living in the moment” and accepting things as they come, no expectations, no judgments, just embracing life as it emerges before me.

“What a bunch of malarkey,” as a friend of mine is fond of saying. Of course I have expectations. Even having “no expectations” is an expectation. My history informs the lens with which I look at my world. I grew up in an abusive family and, wonder of wonders, I still, if I really think about it, find myself expecting to be hit if I say the wrong thing. Or shamed even when I say the right thing. In my younger self’s world there usually was no winning. So my expectations of never getting it right have led me at times to withdraw or not to speak up for myself. Oddly enough, I can speak up for others when I see them being unjustly treated, but I’m trying to recall ever having had my own advocate when things got tough.

“Who do you say that Jesus is?” I think that throughout my life Jesus has been whatever I needed at the time. If I was in trouble, I would need someone to rescue me, or to protect me. I remember at times bargaining with Jesus, but always of course for “selfless” things. “Please don’t let so-and-so lose their job. I promise that I will (fill in the blank) for you forever if you will just grant this one request.” (Jesus actually came through several times. At least that was my conclusion.) Yet I never really found myself expecting him to come through, to help me out in my — or another’s — need. I didn’t really deserve his support. I wasn’t a true blue friend to him. Why should I expect his assistance?

Now, as an older adult (yes!) I find myself reflecting on Jesus and my ever-changing expectations of him. Is he a friend? A confidant? A miracle worker? Someone for me to talk to, to be listened to, and to be heard? How about guidance? Or inspiration? And the really big one, how about Jesus showing me love?

Jesus asked his disciples “who do you say that I am?” Peter, good old Peter, says “You are the Christ” which sounds pretty nifty to me. But when Jesus tells these followers of his that he must suffer, be rejected, and be killed, Peter has a conniption. This was not the sort of Christ or Messiah that he was expecting, that he thought he (or his community) needed. He actually rebuked Jesus. OMG. If I ever felt like I could rebuke Jesus, I expect I’d get struck down on the spot. (Oops, there’s an expectation there!)

My expectations aren’t always realistic. They don’t hold up to my current experiences, even though I’m basing them on the “reality” of past ordeals. And I find that, if I look and listen closely, my expectations can set me up for failure or for success, for disappointment or for happy days. As I learn more about Jesus, my experiences of him and of the world begin to change. For the better. Building my foundation on this relationship “miraculously” affects what I expect in life. Allowing Jesus to, indeed, support me, listen to me, and most important of all, to hear me, allows my pessimistic expectations (no wonder I avoid them) to become less so, to gradually relax, to see possibility, to feel hopeful. It also empowers me to imagine that maybe not everyone is going to treat me wrongly, or diminish my contributions, or challenge my very being. With Jesus I begin to feel accompanied on my journey by someone who has walked this path before, through suffering and rejection, and yes, ultimately rising from the dead. Now that’s a great expectation!