January 8, 2015
Thursday after Epiphany Sunday
Click here for the complete text of today’s readings.
Jesus Redefines Success
Whoever is begotten by God conquers the world.
Jesus died a failure. In Nazareth he claimed:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free.
“Today,” he said, “this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”
But on the day he died, nothing had changed in Israel. No prisoners were liberated; the oppressed were still oppressed; blind people were still blind; and the “glad tidings” brought to the poor were not the tidings they hoped for.
Jesus failed to convert all but a handful of the people he preached to. They turned out enthusiastically to see “signs and miracles,” but turned away predictably when he called for faith and sacrifice. He wept over Jerusalem’s lack of response, couldn’t convert Capernaum, and was rejected in his home town by the people he grew up with. Even his hand-picked disciples abandoned him at the end (Luke 4:28; Matthew 11:23; 23:37; 26:56). When he gave up his spirit on the cross, he died defeated. And re-defined victory.
Jesus won by losing. And he still wins by losing in the members of his body continuing his messianic mission on earth. For Christians it is a profession of faith to say, “It isn’t whether you won or lost but how you played the game.” For Christians, victory is to live and die by faith, hope and love, regardless of any identifiable results. This is a profound liberation.
Jesus freed us from the need to “succeed.” He made wealth and prestige less than irrelevant; they are positive handicaps. All three synoptic Gospels repeat Jesus’ warning: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25). St. Ignatius taught (Spiritual Exercises 142) that the devil’s strategy is to tempt people to work for two things that are not sinful—affluence and prestige—in order to make them vulnerable to the great sin, which is pride. And experience bears out Lord Acton’s observation to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887: “All power tends to corrupt.”
For Christians, the rich, the famous and the powerful are to be pitied. We should help them with compassion and love to make something of their lives in spite of their disadvantage.
Those who accept the priorities of Jesus have no fear of failure, because of ourselves there is nothing we can accomplish. Nothing we can do has any eternal value unless Jesus is doing it with us, in us and through us. Our fundamental belief, the most basic truth of our Baptism, is “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). For Christians, the key to success is surrender.
For us, success doesn’t depend on power, but on a promise: “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last” (John 15:16).
We can only fail if we choose to. We cannot fail for lack of looks, ability, talent, education, resources, favorable circumstances, luck, or helpful contacts. All results that depend on anything except our own free choice are irrelevant to personal success or failure. We can only fail by refusing to act out of faith, hope or love.
And these are free gifts of God. To these gifts above all, the promise of Jesus applies, “Ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete” (John 16:24). There is no reason, ever, for a Christian not to live in joy. It was on the very evening before his passion and death that Jesus said to his disciples, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete” (John 15:10).
Jesus died a “loser” to give a new definition to “winner.” Jesus repeats six times in the Gospels: “Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39; 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33; John 12:25).
This gives new meaning, new confidence, new joy in life to all who accept to live on his terms.
“The victory that conquers the world is our faith.”
Pray all day:
“Lord, do this with me, do this in me, do this through me!”
Never use the words “win,” “lose,” “success,” or “failure” in the same way again.
Does this give you a new attitude toward the “successes” and “failures” in your life?