Failing Successfully

Life Notes

Failing Successfully

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:3

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Matthew 5:5

Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first. Matthew 19:30

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

Jesus makes a number of difficult and paradoxical pronouncements throughout his ministry. He tells us the poor in spirit, meek, and persecuted will be blessed. Can you imagine a parent wanting their child to grow up poor and meek? Blessed, yes. Persecuted? No way. Can you imagine a coach encouraging a prospective athlete to come in last, or a business professor teaching the benefits of poverty? By today’s standards of success, the Bible can seem a formula for failure.

The Paschal Mystery is the mystery of the Lamb, the Lamb being Jesus. It refers to the truths of Jesus that are not widely understood, and the New Testament is full of them. Fr. Richard Rohr sums up the Paschal Mystery by saying, “The way up is the way down.” Paradoxical truths are perhaps not as hard to understand as they are to accept. It is risky to pattern a life after them, especially for those to whom earthly success is important. In just about every country and age, except my own, I am a rich man. Therefore, the passage from Matthew 19, about the difficulty for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, seems particularly harsh. After all, I am a good person. I am active in my church. I study the Bible, and I pray daily. I have worked long and hard for my success. Why would the kingdom of God be difficult for me to enter?

The Paschal Mystery is mysterious because spiritual success and material success are often confused, different, and sometimes mutually exclusive. Fear of failure prevents us from stretching ourselves to new heights, both spiritually and materially. In our culture, the poor are considered deprived, perhaps even failures. In Jesus-speak, those who desire material wealth beyond their need are poor and have failed. But think about this: No one appreciates success more than one who has repeatedly failed. Those who have not failed may take their success for granted. No one appreciates the grace of forgiveness more than one who has sinned horribly. No one appreciates health like one who has been ill. The challenge, then, is remaining mindful of the source and scope of our blessings. We find the kingdom of God by entirely relying on God for our life and sustenance, and by being grateful for what we receive. We need not fear failing as we strive to deepen our spirituality. Failure is not a permanent state, but it can become an entrance into a deeper relationship with God. Indeed, the way up, many times, is down.

Come home to church this Sunday. A reliant faith is the key to the kingdom of God.

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