Success can’t be measured while on Earth

  • January 21, 2016

Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) Jan. 31 (Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19; Psalm 71; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13; Luke 4:21-30)

The prophetic call from God made brave men quake. Most of them knew exactly what it could mean — hardship, rejection, persecution, failure and even death.

Jeremiah tried mightily to talk his way out of his calling. He pleaded youth, inexperience and poor speaking ability, but God would not accept any of his objections. God made it clear to Jeremiah that his calling was not just a divine whim. He had been marked out from the very first moments of life in his mother’s womb for this mission.

God had some very hard words for Jeremiah: if he accepted this mission wholeheartedly, God would be with him all the way, making him strong to the point of being indestructible. No human force would be able to derail him. On the other hand, if he became weak-kneed, giving in to fear, negativity and defeatism, God would break him. All bets would be off — his enemies would have him for breakfast.

Following Jeremiah’s long and tortured ministry is interesting. Jeremiah was mocked and ridiculed by many, and he was not believed by those in power. They persecuted him to the point of hatching a death plot against him. He tried to walk away from his mission several times, but God’s word and calling burned within him.

He even had the misfortune of living long enough to see the disaster he had warned about overtake them. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 586 BC and led a sizeable portion of the population into exile for a generation. In strictly human terms, his mission was a failure, just as in the case of the ministry of Jesus. But in both cases, they were not called to be successful, but faithful — and in that, they succeeded brilliantly.

People often give in to fear at the shear immensity of a task they are facing. The whispering voices begin their negative chorus of reasons for impending failure and doom. This applies in any human endeavour, but much more in spiritual undertakings.

If we are doing what God wants us to do, we will have the grace and strength to accomplish it. God does not demand of us more than we can bear. We will never be able to measure the success or failure of our efforts by human standards. The final verdict rests with God, and the evaluation is always by God’s standards.

Love is the essential and indispensable core of holiness, goodness and true religion. It is also the measuring rod for determining our success or failure. God is not impressed with great deeds that are done with a heart filled with selfishness, pride, unkindness or hatred. Love authenticates the sincerity of our actions and validates our religious faith.

This is the element missing in so many of the raging debates and cultural wars of our time. Viciousness and polarization both seem to have the upper hand in numerous parts of our societies, political bodies or faith communities. Many fierce warriors for particular political policies or religious points of view are heedless of ordinary human civility, let alone Christian love.

Jesus shocked those attending the synagogue in which He made His first appearance. By using example for Israel’s history, He showed that they did not have an inclusive hold on God. We do not either — no person or group does. Jesus suggested that the prevailing view of God was too narrow. This has always been a battle — trying to protect the image of God from the projection of human fears, emotions and the desire to possess and exclude.

God continues to cleanse our understanding of the divine. True knowledge of God rules out any sort of religious exclusivism or triumphalism, and most religious traditions have a lot of growing to do in this area.

Jesus encountered rage and rejection that day, and His reception would be no different if He were to repeat His declaration in our churches today. The mere suggestion that Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God — which they do, each in their own way — still provokes rage and denunciation in some quarters.

Sincere worship is an expression of the love described in Paul’s letter, for God is love itself, and it is in loving that we come to truly understand Him.