Tuesday in Holy week 1992
A Chapter of Failures
Isaiah 49: 1-12
John 13: 21-end
This evening in the readings we heard about a number of failures.
The prophet Isaiah writing many years before Jesus Christ wrote about someone he called "the Servant" - four Servant Songs as they are called: and they are read every year at this season because people recognize in the person these songs describe the forerunner of the Saviour of the World who worked man's salvation and was "made perfect through suffering".
Perhaps the Servant was a close friend of Isaiah. Perhaps he was writing about himself - we just don't know. But whoever he was we know that he was someone who was deeply aware of having been given a job to do by God and called according to his will. Yet by the time we get to the second of the Servant Songs, this evening's reading, we find the Servant realising that he has been a total failure. "I said "I have laboured in vain and spent my strength for nothing and in vain".
I want to come back to God's reply to the Servant in a moment and turn to two other failures in the second reading - Judas Iscariot and Peter, two of Jesus' s closest friends.
Perhaps Judas was already disillusioned. Maybe he was expecting something else from Jesus than what Jesus had to give. Maybe he felt cheated and disappointed as he saw Jesus's own mission and ministry apparently just about to collapse and disintegrate.
Whatever it was he wasn't prepared to forgive: he conceived a grudge which grew, as grudges do, into a grievance, and he harboured and silently nursed that grievance until it turned into a fully fledged hatred first of the Apostles, then of Jesus, then of himself.
Then there was Peter, hovering on the brink of failure though he didn't realise it. Saying he was ready to go to death with Jesus - a boast which he was soon to live to regret. Somehow I think Peter sensed failure was just round the corner. His response was to boast that when he met it he would overcome it single-handed.
And then there was Jesus: we don't know exactly what he felt but my guess is that he felt sad not only for himself and but also for the two colleagues who were so soon to come to grief. Whenever someone for whom we are responsible goes off the rails it is natural to ask "where did I go wrong?" and the fact that one can find no answer does little to reassure.
And so back to the Suffering Servant. What is God's reply to him? His reply is to entrust him with an even greater mission - to the whole world. The Gentiles are to be included in the plan of God's salvation.
Out of failure God brings salvation. Not for those like Judas who refuse to accept it. So far as we know he never forgave himself, though of course we can't be sure . But for those like St Peter who allow their self-disappointment to become the the seed bed in which the love of God grows and flourishes there opens up a limitless horizon of possibilities. The Saints are not those who made a success of things. They are, on the contrary, those were accept their own failures as the starting point for God's grace.
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