As Holy Week approaches, I’ve been reading and reflecting on stories from the days preceding Jesus’ death. As always, no matter how many times I read these stories, with each reading I discover new things I’ve not noticed before.
For instance, I recently discovered in Mark 14, following the Last Supper, as Jesus walked with his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said, “All of you will desert me…. But after I am raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.” (Mark 14:27-28)
In other words, “After you desert me, I’ll meet you in Galilee.”
Similarly, in Luke 22, Jesus addresses Simon Peter: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. But I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail. So when you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
In other words, “After you fail, repent and help your brothers.”
In both cases, Jesus fully anticipated the disciples’ impending failings. He stated it as fact – they would fail! In the first, he addressed the eleven (Judas’s betrayal had already begun): “All of you will desert me.” In the second, Jesus specifically addressed Simon Peter. In the Luke 22 passage, it seems like something is missing between Jesus saying, “I have pleaded in prayer for you, Simon, that your faith should not fail” and “So when you have repented and turned to me again…” – something like, “Simon, I’ve prayed you won’t fail, but you obviously will.”
In both stories, Jesus anticipates the disciples’ weakness, fears, and failures. And, in both, Jesus promises the restitution he’ll provide on the other side of their failures: “I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there” and “When you have repented and turned to me again, strengthen your brothers.”
Promises of grace were made before the failure!
Jesus anticipated their weaknesses, shortcomings, and collective ignorance, and didn’t hold it against them.
Jesus anticipated their weakness and promised forgiveness.
Jesus anticipated his abandonment, but promised never to abandon them.
As I reflect on the disciples’ failures, I can’t help but think of my own. In spite of twenty-five-plus years of professional, credentialed ministry, I still feel like the least-likely of pastors. I often wonder why Jesus didn’t look a bit harder for better pastoral options, before settling for me!
I can accept God’s grace was sufficient for all of my pre-ministry failings. But, what about all of my shortcomings SINCE becoming a pastor? In fact, I was so young when my ministry began, I might argue MOST of my shortcomings have been revealed SINCE my calling and ordination!
Part of the United Methodist Church’s ordination process includes psychological evaluation. Though mine uncovered plenty of “areas of concern,” I’d argue it barely scratched the surface! Or, maybe the realities of ministry have created or uncovered mysteries the psychological tests failed to anticipate. Unfortunate!
I can’t help but wonder, “What was Jesus thinking?” Didn’t he know I, like his disciples, would fall short, over and over and over again? The answer is obviously “Yes!” Of course he knew of my shortcomings, just as he knew of theirs, just as he knew of yours – YES, YOURS TOO! He is omniscient, after all! And, in spite of my glaring insufficiencies, and theirs, and yours, he chose us anyway.
Perhaps his grace is sufficient, even for my insufficiencies? And, yours?
Some kind souls will surely say, “Pastor. You’re just being humble. You shouldn’t be so hard on yourself.” (In fact, someone said that to me, just today!) Trust me: this isn’t humility!
Perhaps others, who’ve endured (or are enduring) my pastorship, would gladly support the acknowledgement of my ministerial shortcomings – and gladly offer detailed supporting arguments! If you’re so inclined, you’re welcome to do so in the “comments” section, if you feel you must. Rather than creating my own list of failures, I’ll leave that opportunity for others. Perhaps you will find it cathartic!
Trust me. I don’t need to list them, myself. I know them, all to well!
As I said, I’m as surprised as any that Jesus chose a dude like me!
As strange as this may sound, I must admit to finding remarkable comfort and encouragement in these stories from Holy Week. If Jesus couldn’t find twelve better disciples than these, then maybe there’s hope for me and my ministry. If Jesus, knowing the disciples would fall short when he needed them, still planned to forgive and restore them afterward, perhaps he’s none-too-shocked by the many ways and times I fall short, as well.
Please understand, I’m not excusing my mistakes, failures, or shortcomings. Nor, am I making light of them. I try hard. And, WHEN (not if) I fall short, I try as hard as I can to apologize, make it right, and try harder next time. And, I still, consistently, come up short, over and over again.
I’ve recently discovered, and fallen in love with, the writings of Karl Rahner. Rahner was a Jesuit Catholic priest, theologian and mystic, who lived in the 20th century. In his book, Encounters with Silence, he writes,
“You have made me Your priest, and have thus chosen me to be an earthly sign of Your grace to others. And although it doesn’t surprise me that (people) should recognize You when You come to meet them in Your only-begotten Son, or in the chaste water of baptism, or in the silent form of the (communion bread), or in the words of Scripture so simple and yet so profound, still I find it all but incredible that You desire to come into Your Kingdom in the hearts of (people) through ME. How can (people) possibly recognize You in ME?”
“How can (people) possibly recognize You in ME?” Amen, Karl!
My point in sharing these reflections is not to indulge in self-pity, self-hate, self-condemnation, self-shaming, or public self-flagellation. I am the pastor I am, warts and all, always striving to be and do better, and occasionally succeeding. Sometimes, not so much. I have my good moments of ministry. But, there are others, that are not so good…
My point is, we’re ALL called in some way, and we ALL come up short of expectations, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) But, all of our failures, shortcomings, insufficiencies, weaknesses, mistakes, faux pas, etc., etc. do not forfeit our callings or the possibility of redemption, “…and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:24)
Not the disciples. Not me. Not you. No one. Our failings don’t disqualify us from service. Jesus promises, “After you fail – and you most certainly will – repent, and get back to work! I forgave you before you did it, or didn’t do it, or whatever the case may be.”
With that promise mind, I close with the words of my new friend, Karl Rahner,
“Let my heart tremble again and again in grateful surprise at the miracles of Your grace, which is mighty in the midst of weakness. Let me continue to marvel that I meet so many (people) who allow me, poor sinner that I am, to enter into the secret chamber of their hearts, because they have been able to recognize You hidden in me. Thus I shall be happy to set out again and again on my messenger’s rounds to my fellow men (and women). You have sent me, and so I go in Your name, not my own. Let Your power triumph through my weakness, whenever you desire it to do so.”
Addendum: After posting this, I discovered this quote from Pope Francis. It’s just to good to let it go to waste…
“We are not asked to be flawless, but to keep growing and wanting to grow as we advance along the path of the Gospel… What is essential is that the preacher be certain that God loves him(/her) and that his love always has the last word.”