What I’m Thinking: Failure

When Jesus talked about being rejected and executed, he was describing failure. He went on to recommend… failure… to his followers.

Here’s a transcript:

I’m thinking about the eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel (Mark 8:27-38). The section begins with a lot of promise. Jesus asked his disciples who people thought that he was. And they came up with a bunch of answers, none of which Jesus approved, until Peter said, “You are the Messiah, the Promised One of God.”

A promising beginning, but it began to awry from there, and who led it astray? Jesus himself, telling his friends that the Messiah had to be arrested and tried and convicted and executed. Gathering a crowd and telling them that if they wanted to become his followers they had to take up their cross and follow him.

What made all this so shocking in the first century was that a Messiah, by definition, was a success. The Messiah was the one who would overthrow the occupying Romans. The Messiah was the one who would become the new monarch. The Messiah, by definition, was a success. What Jesus described, with arrest and conviction and execution, what Jesus described with taking up the cross, was failure. Unsuccessful rebels against Rome were crucified.

A Messiah, by definition, was a success.

Over the centuries, it’s only the resurrection that has made these words make sense. It is still very difficult for us to embrace this notion that failure is not just a part of the life of faith, but potentially an extraordinarily valuable part of the life of faith. We grudgingly concede that failure sometimes is the best teacher. There are things you learn from, well, lack of success that lead to success in the end. That, actually, is how the scientific method works in many cases. You try one thing, then a different thing, then another different thing until you find the thing that matches your hoped-for or predicted outcome.

But in the life of faith we tend to expect that if we do the “right thing” that another “right thing” will take place.

Jesus showed us clearly that that’s not always how it works. He showed it clearly in his life; his disciples showed it in their lives. Not a one of them could be considered a success in the usual understandings of the world. Nevertheless, they also show us by their example that they changed the world. Oh, not as completely or as successfully as they might have liked. The world is still very much as it is. When Christianity took over the Empire, the Roman Empire, I have to confess that it was more Empire than it was Christian.

It is, I think, for us to work through our times of failure, to work through the times that we do feel like we are carrying not just a heavy burden but the burden of our own execution, and find in it the seeds of the resurrection to come, a new life with a success beyond imagining.

That’s what I’m thinking. I’m curious to hear what you’re thinking. Leave me your thoughts in the comment section below; I’d love to hear from you.

Categories What I'm Thinking | Tags: , | Posted on September 7, 2021

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