A Modern St Paul?
The first reading for today's liturgy is almost laughable. Paul is putting this account forward as his CV (Curriculum Vitae)! If you had published a job opening and received this resume or one that would sound similar today, how quickly would you show it to others you work with? You and your colleagues would, most likely, consider the application either a joke or the attempt of a job seeker who knew nothing about all that Job Hunters would teach.
Yet, there is in such a presentation a very individualized presentation of one man's road to .... are you ready?? ... to success! You might say to me, "You are joking, aren't you?" Well, to be very honest, I am NOT joking. Here are some interesting historical facts: Nelson Mandela secretly worked on his autobiography for 27 years while a prisioner. Sir Walter Raleigh put together a history of the world while he was imprisioned. Amd where did Martin Luther translate the Bible? In castle-confinement. Winston Churchill's insight: "A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; and optimist sees the opportunity in every difficult." Each of these noteworthy people was strong enough to overcome what the world would judge to be failure. Again, Churchill, "Success is going from failure to failure without losing our enthusiasm." For you who are baseball fans: we all know that the great Babe Ruth hit 714 home runs. Did you know how many times he struck out? 300? 400? 500? 600? 700? 714 times!!!!
Failures are but the seed-ground for successes, for blessings. Usually a failure is a painful but wonderful learning experience. Lewis Timberlake: "Failing doesn't mean God has abandoned me; it just means I must obediently seek his will.... In other words, people can get deeply discouraged. But filled with God's power and fueled by God's presence, you can hang in, hold on --- and win!
I write these words because I am sure there are some who have just completed a segment of their education, their preparation for a new mission it life ... but nobody's hiring!!! The seeming failure of "cold calling", knocking on doors and being told "NO!", getting no responses from the super-professional resume that was sent to hundreds of businesses could easily put some distance between a person and God. Yet, what we learn from the Sermon on the Mount -- the entire chapter long sermon -- is that there is no failure that is not a learning experience to better a person for the next effort.
A friend who has helped me in so many ways was looked upon by many as a sure failure while in high school. Some courses were failures. Yet determination is this man's middle name: he took classes each summer so that he would graduate at the end of his Senior Year. He did. No college. Right to the blue collar world where anyone with a sense for future success would have seen that this man would not be there long. Through a couple of painful circumstances he came to see himself in a very different work. Some simple discernment. Some ten years later he is a very successful business man. The usual story: two cars, two homes, two this two that but most of all always learning from what he did not know. Today he knows exactly what Saint Paul was saying in the words we heard heard/read today: there nothing wrong with a failure or a mistake ... it is simply a stepping stone to a goal, to the completion of a mission. So don't always judge the book by its cover.
Our relationship with God is no different. He is going to allow you and me to make mistakes. The issue is simple: did we learn from those wrong pathways we walked? Building a close relationship with God and being his "agent" in today's world is more than a destination, it is a journey, it is that "closer walk with Thee." We will know it when our ship has run aground on sand or rocks more than a few times. This is the moment when we realize that "knowing" God is not a momentary experience. It is a never-ending awakening.