Today: Thursday, November 21, 2019

Jesus the failure    (11/18/2007)

Not a title you'd expect from a Christian source, is it? And quite judgmental, in this ‘can do', success-oriented world. The founder of Christianity, a failure!

How can that be? After all, the church is a powerful world-wide institution, with a wonderful property portfolio, and pomp and tradition built up over 2000 years. Not forgetting a membership of hundreds of millions, nor Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, and Luther King; social reformers, hospitals and hospices; Mother Teresa, schools and charities; and my friend Mabel, who was a great human being. So what do I mean, ‘failure'?

There is a necessary, and right, focus in the church on growth. However, there is significant danger in equating success with growth.

Jesus, after all, was well-acquainted with failure; misunderstood by his own family, rejected by his own community, opposed by the establishment, abandoned by his disciples. Jesus did not convince all he spoke to, or heal all he met. He died a lonely death, ‘a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.'

‘My ways are not your ways', says God in Isaiah (OT), chapter 55, verse 8. In the strange upside-down world of the Kingdom of God, success and failure are not always what they seem. Nor does power operate in a way we would naturally understand.

So, what is failure? It's a judgment about our actions, based upon generally accepted goals and standards. And, by definition, it is a negative judgment. You have not reached a goal, target, standard, performance indicator, hope, or ambition.

But failure is an inescapable, essential, part of life. We are limited creatures in an imperfect, difficult world. To grow is to take risks, move beyond our safety zone to stretch our understanding, abilities and experience. But we are not, after all, James Bond. We cannot disarm a nuclear bomb in 30 seconds, or be a top-class driver, athlete, skier, climber, pilot or lover—all without apparent effort.

Sometimes people have to retake their driving test. Sometimes, people don't pass their exams, get the job they want, or hold onto important relationships. So we try again, and so develop perseverance. Abraham Lincoln was beaten in 8 elections; was he a failure? JK Rowling was rejected by most of the big publishers—was Harry Potter a failure? Often ‘failure' becomes a real growth point in our lives.

So was Jesus a failure? Yes, and No. As a human being, he suffered the same limitations and relationship problems that we do. In human terms, his ministry ended in failure. In God's reality, however, Jesus' life and ministry was a complete success, achieving healing for the world. The growth of the church is but a pale reflection of that success and of God's reality.

God in Christ undertook a risky adventure, a rescue operation which is ongoing. Are you prepared to take a risk, to go beyond your safe boundaries, to find out more about Jesus and grow spiritually? The greatest failure is to live life without risk, and to be afraid of growing.

Pray: Lord, remind me always that Jesus knew failure and pain, and that's how he can understand mine. But please also reveal to me the truth about his amazing achievement on the cross, and what it means for me. Amen.

Think about: what is it about our society that makes failure so shameful, something to hide? There are three failed business behind every successful new business, yet we all prefer to talk about successfully reaching our destination, not how hard the journey was. Why are we so afraid that others won't forgive us for being human?

Challenge: Think of a time when you failed, and it hurt. Some time over the next week, find a way to casually tell someone about it. Choose someone to whom you wouldn't nomally want to share such a thing with - someone at work or at college, perhaps, rather than someone close to you. The more we all share our past failures, the more we give one another - and ourselves - permission to try.

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