Monday of the 6th Week of Easter
Acts 16:11-15; Psalm 149; John 15:26-16:4
When can success seem like utter failure to the eyes of those who don’t understand? I’m a fan of cycling and I’m following the Giro d’italia (the Tour of Italy) at the moment and there are many examples of that in the race right now. In a cycling race, there are 9 members in a team but only 1 man will be ‘protected’ and it’s that designated leader who will win the stages or the whole race, if at all. If he wins, he gets the glory, the prizes, a trophy and TV appearances. His teammates will get a massage and a bowl of pasta in the team hotel. 8 men work so that one man wins. Even former world or Olympic champions will struggle and slog through long races so that someone else will win and get the glory. To the world, it might seem that that champion is wasting his time working for another. But a looks on the faces of these teammates as they cross the finish line, long after the winner has passed tell a different story. One sees satisfaction and a certain joy in helping someone else win.
In our world, we’re conditioned to want success, to be successful at all costs. And people will tell you exactly what success looks like. We need to come in first, to complete difficult tasks quickly and to the best in whatever we do. We yearn for it and work inordinately hard for it. In our readings today, the Lord in speaking some comforting words to the disciples also disconcerts or disturbs them. Yes, the Holy Spirit, the helper will indeed come but you’re all going to suffer at the hands of others as well. It’s like the Lord telling them that the going is going to get tough, so they’d better get going. He mentioned them getting persecuted, getting thrown out of places of worship – seen as failures but he assures them that they will not be so.
The Lord reminds us that the ways of the world are not the same as the ways of God. Success is not just about coming in first, completing things or being the best at something. That’s the external success that the world craves but that fades after some time. The rewards, medals and praises will not last. Success in the Lord has to go deeper than that and requires a deeper starting and ending point for all of us. I see two points that are important here.
Firstly, we need to realise that success has deep starting and ending points. What seems successful on the surface is great but we need to go deeper. We need to consider how the Lord saw success. The Lord’s success on the earth was his dying on the cross. It seems like abject failure but the earthly considerations pale in comparison with the heavenly rewards it reaped for the whole world. In the same way, the Lord warns us that as disciples, we’re going to be persecuted. But in persecution, we realise that our spreading of the Gospel is working, that it’s touching the lives of others and making some other people nervous at the same time. We see how the early Christians and Christians in Asia over the centuries have been persecuted and strengthened in their persecution. They had a deep understanding of success – as how it starts with a deep faith in the Lord and ends with a deep trust that through the suffering, the Gospel is burned deeper in the hearts of the faithful.
Secondly, we need to be ready for difficulties as success does not come easily. The depth from the previous point continues here. We realise that doing the Lord’s work is not easy and even the best of us (remember Jonah?) will try to run away when called. In our depth of knowing the Lrod and knowing how we’re called, we’re also called to prepare ourselves for difficulties, which may come in many ways, not just physical ones. Failure to the world may be victories in the Lord and we need to steel ourselves to realise that others may see things otherwise, according to the ways of the world. Sometimes, things have to get much worse before they get better.
We know that success comes in many forms that we may not quite realise. St Paul wanted to remain simple and to convert the normal folk but in the reading of today, he succeeded in converting the rich purple dye merchants of Lydia. He realised that sometimes, success comes in different forms and may not follow our original plans. He was flexible and responded from the depth of his knowledge of the Lord and accepted the help and hospitality of the rich along with the poor. He knew that the rich needed as much ministering to as the poor.
The main point that we see here is that we should not be discouraged, no matter what we’re called to be and do. We know that the Lord has called us to his service and that no matter the trouble, we’re going to get help in some way. And with that, we should prepare ourselves for what is to come. We pray and achieve a certain depth of relationship with the Lord through that. We also know that with the help of the Holy Spirit, the advocate and helper, we can achieve, not success in the world but success in the Lord. With that assurance, how can we not succeed?