The Peter Principle
The Peter Principle

The Peter Principle

Many people have heard of something called “The Peter Principle”: the concept that, in the business world, people tend to rise to their level of incompetence. In other words, when people prove themselves capable of doing a certain job well, they’re often promoted to a higher or more important position—only to discover that they’re in over their heads and unable to function adequately. This is one reason why businesses, and especially government bureaucracies, often tend to be inefficient. The author of this theory is a man named Laurence J. Peter, and he called his very insightful and important book The Peter Principle: Why Things Always Go Wrong. Even though the book is now considered a classic, Mr. Peter had a difficult time getting it published at first; 30 different publishing firms rejected it. Once it was finally accepted and published, however, it went on to sell over 8 million copies (Link, Illustrated Sunday Homilies, Year C, Series II, p. 61). I can personally understand this experience, though on a much smaller scale; I received over a dozen rejection slips before my first book was accepted for publication, and my second book—a novel—took only six months to write, but six years to find a publisher. Probably the all-time record in that regard belongs to an English novelist named John Creasy. During his lifetime he authored 564 published books; however, before he managed to have his first one published, he received 753 rejection slips.

Rejection is something experienced not only in the literary field, but in many aspects of life, including relationships, job interviews, politics, business deals, and even faith. God Himself experiences rejection, and this is also frequently true for His servants. Not everyone wants to hear the Gospel, but Jesus expects us to do our best in sharing it. Being rejected can be part of our Christian calling; giving up never is.

One of the most unfortunate and sympathetic figures in the entire Old Testament was the prophet Jeremiah. He was called by God when still very young; he hated public speaking, and it seems he had a stuttering problem. As if that weren’t enough, he lived in a sinful age, in which the kingdom of Judah, centered around Jerusalem, was threatened by military enemies on the outside and by spiritual corruption on the inside. The people naïvely assumed God would protect them no matter how much they ignored His commandments. It was Jeremiah’s task to warn them this wasn’t true; if they didn’t repent, they would be defeated, and the holy city of Jerusalem destroyed. As you can imagine, this message made Jeremiah very unpopular; he was called a defeatist and a traitor, cursed and mocked by the people, threatened with death, and imprisoned several times. He himself complained bitterly to God about his fate; he didn’t like the experience of being rejected. The Lord assures Jeremiah (1:4-5, 17-19) that his calling is an important one, even if the people are rejecting the message; the Lord promises that He will sustain His prophet.

As we see in the Gospel of Luke (4:21-30), Jesus had a similar experience of rejection. The people of Hishometown were favorably disposed toward Him—until He spoke some inconvenient truths about God’s love for everyone, including foreigners; then the people of Nazareth turned against Him. Jesus probably knew this would happen, but it didn’t keep Him from proclaiming His message. St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Corinthians (12:31-13:13) that love is patient and kind; it isn’t prone to anger, it doesn’t brood over injuries, and there isn’t any limit to its forbearance and power to endure. Jesus, as the most loving person Who ever lived, was therefore able to accept rejection, even though it was personally painful to Him.

There are three questions to which I’m sure almost everyone here can answer “yes.” They are: Have you ever felt rejected? Have you ever felt like giving up? Have you discovered that, inspite of that experience and that feeling, God’s strength enabled you to keep on going? The Lord is with us in our times of difficulty and discouragement; He asks that we remain loyal to Him, giving Him our trust even when it isn’t easy. Jesus persevered, and He asks us to do the same. For instance, you may have a family member who no longer practices the faith; you’ve done everything you can think of to change this, but to no avail. Does Jesus say to you, “Give up; don’t bother trying anymore”? No, He asks you to persevere in prayer and continue giving a good example. Maybe you have a personal fault or weakness or addiction that you’ve been trying to overcome for years, but you haven’t succeeded. Does the Lord want you to quit trying?

No, He asks you to follow each failure with a renewed effort, trusting that His grace will one day make a difference, even though you can’t see how. Possibly you find it hard to live as a Christian, being honest and faithful when everyone else seems to be cheating, being generous when most people seem to be selfish, and living the Gospel when our society seems to be rejecting it. Does God give you permission to stop trying? No, He asks you to bear rejection and discouragement with patience, offering everything up as a sacrifice for His glory, and trusting that, in the end, His Kingdom will come.

In the Kingdom of God, we will not experience misunderstanding, ingratitude, or rejection; until then, however, these things may be part of life. They’re not pleasant, but neither are they so terrible or powerful that we have to surrender our deepest values and beliefs. The Gospel is true, and it will always be true, regardless of whether people accept it or reject it. God’s Word cannot be silenced or drowned out; His truth cannot be chained or imprisoned, no matter how much the world might try. If we root our lives in His grace, it doesn’t matter whether the world rejects us; those who remain faithful to Christ are assured in sharing in His victory.

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Written by
Fr Joseph Esper