Saturday, October 23, 2010

Good guys screw up; the ones you love will let you down; some advice

This week's Epistle presents the picture of the Apostle Paul, sitting in jail and facing execution.

It has only excerpts of a full description of his circumstances. Here are some of the missing verses,

"Do your best to come to me soon, for Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica; Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful in my ministry. I have sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will pay him back for his deeds. You also must beware of him, for he strongly opposed our message."

Let's get Alexander out of the way first: there are evil people in life. Paul does what Jesus says, not taking or encouraging revenge but leaving judgement to God. Sensibly, he warns others about the danger posed by a destructive enemy.

The bulk of the passage is about allies - fellow missionaries, in Paul's case - who bailed on him. Only one, Demas, seems to have abandoned the faith for "this present world." The others seem to be busy with other missions. They are like so many of us, who hurt and are hurt by the people we care about most.

On these people, Paul does not assert divine judgement. "At my first defense no one came to my support, but all deserted me. May it not be counted against them!" Paul, understanding full well how much mercy Christ had shown him, prays mercy upon them. And lest we think that this is some pious platitude, we see Paul put the prayer into action by asking Timothy to bring Mark, who had abandoned Paul on a previous mission. Paul goes beyond words to really offer a second chance.

How is Paul able to do this? The key is at the end of Sunday's passage:

"...the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion's mouth. The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and save me for his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen."

He finds all he needs in the love of Christ. When people we care about let us down, we can discover that we have asked them to play an impossible, God-sized role in our lives. We freight them with our needs for love, loyalty, acceptance, amusement, reliability, comfort, patience and other qualities that only God can fulfill to perfection.

Paul can be merciful because he accepts the humanity and fallibility of his friends, and exalts the divinity and perfection of Christ.

There's a prayer said for the couple during the marriage service in The Book of Common Prayer,

"Give them grace, when they hurt each other, to recognize and
acknowledge their fault, and to seek each other's forgiveness
and yours."

Not if they hurt each other, but when. Hurts and disappointments go with love in this life. Paul, on death row, shows us that mercy is the good way. It brings us the perfect hope and help of the one we abandon and betray the most, who most painfully suffers our human limitation with grace and compassion.


Georgia said...

Fr. Tim, This is one of your best ever posts. Much needed pastoral counsel for me. Thank you so much.

Danny Dolan said...

Thanks for this.

Matt Perkins said...

Great reflection, thanks. I often have a hard time not wanting people to play a "God-sized role." But when I do this it only brings pain and disappointment.

TLF+ said...

One of the ways God has opened my heart to the vastness of his love and mercy is to "pull back the curtain" on a bunch of ways I let people down or wounded them over the years - in most of those cases in ways I really can't go back and do anything to correct. This has filled me with a fresh sense of what it means to be a sinner justified by Christ and given me an infusion of patience toward others.

David Handy+ said...

I agree with the other commenters above. This is a compassionate and wise reflection, Tim.

Like Peter, who denied Jesus when his courage failed, I too have failed the Lord and his people sometimes, indeed all too often.

Psalm 146 warns us likewise: "Put not your trust in rulers, not in ANY child of earth, for there is no help in them..."

But fortunately, there is hope for us all, because Peter was restored. And many of us could tell a similar story of restoration after grievous failure.