November 24, 2020
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Challenges Lead to Blessings
The Apostle Paul, 1635, by Rembrandt

Challenges Lead to Blessings

Life often involves risks and taking chances; this can be true both in important things and unimportant matters. As an example of something many people regard as important, consider the stock market. Each working day there are billions of transactions, with people speculating, analyzing, forecasting, and buying or selling stocks, options, mutual funds, commodities futures, and so on. Dreams of financial independence can be realized, or ruined, in an instant; decisions can be made whose results won’t be felt for months or years. When most people think the economy is strong or improving, investors are described as being bullish; when they think the economy is weakening or contracting, they’re bearish. Bulls are much more likely to take the risk of investing than bears. In the Gospel of Matthew (25:14-30), we see two bulls and one bear. In spiritual terms, it’s quite evident which approach God prefers (Pulpit Resources, Year A, Vol. 18, #4, p. 23).

Unimportant things can also involve risk—for instance, a game of football. If a team has a first-and-goal at the opponents’ two-yard-line, runs the fullback into the middle of the line four straight times and fails to score, its fans will be upset. They’ll probably second-guess the coach: “Why didn’t he call a play-action pass, or a power sweep, or a bootleg by the quarterback?” Football fans will sometimes jeer or boo conservative, unimaginative, “safe” plays, but they’ll appreciate and cheer more daring plays—often even if the play fails. This same idea applies to God. He’s concerned not just with “the final score,” but also with our willingness to get involved in life and in our faith. True security comes not from playing it safe, but through honestly trying to do God’s will.

Sacred Scripture offers us advice regarding the need to take reasonable chances in order to make the most of life in a spiritual sense. The Book of Proverbs (31:10-13, 19-20, 30-31) describes the ideal wife—and in somewhat surprising terms. For Jewish women, the easiest, safest course was to be silent and passive, doing only what was expected. After all, men controlled everything, and if a woman made a mistake or offended her husband, she might quickly find herself divorced, and thus a social outcast with no way to support herself. However, this passage from Proverbs praises a woman who is able to think for herself and who is willing to take the initiative; a woman who uses this approach is described as a treasure beyond price.

St. Paul, in his Letter to the Thessalonians (1 Thes 5:1-6), urges his hearers to take the “risk” of keeping busy, instead of seeking “safety” by looking for advance knowledge of Jesus’ return. The Thessalonians wondered if in fact the Second Coming was about to occur, and whether they should prepare for it by quitting work and waiting around in anticipation. Paul tells them to continue meeting their responsibilities in a spirit of faith; that way, even though the Lord’s return might catch them by surprise, they’d be ready. In the Gospel of Matthew (25:14-30), Jesus’ parable praises those who take the initiative in using what God gives them. This is what the first two servants did by investing their master’s money. The third servant, however, tried to play it safe—but it turned out this was the worst approach he could have taken. If he had invested the money and gotten back some return, even if less than the others, the master would have been pleased; in fact, even if the servant had lost the money through an unlucky investment, the master would still have given him credit for trying. Jesus uses this story to tell us that God looks not at whether we’re successful, but at whether we’ve tried.

A company in New York manufactured unbreakable, burglar-resistant glass—but its main office was broken into one night by a burglar who smashed a glass door panel. The firm’s president was later quoted as saying “It never occurred to us to put our own burglar-proof glass in our office door” (Gerard Fuller, Stories for All Seasons, p. 44). That is an embarrassing example of someone who was completely unprepared, and who as a professional should have known better. However, it’s even more important that we be prepared in a spiritual sense—especially as we know that a day of reckoning will come sooner or later.

When we stand before God on judgment day to give Him an accounting of how we’ve used His gifts, it won’t be enough for us to say, “Lord, You gave me Church teachings to believe and religious rules and commandments to follow, so that’s what I’ve done.” God will respond, “Is that all? What about all the opportunities I gave you to grow and mature and develop as a person? Why haven’t you become holier and more loving than you were before? Why didn’t you develop and use the talents and abilities I gave you? Couldn’t you have at least tried to use them for My glory and for the benefit of your brothers and sisters? What about the gift of faith I gave you? Why did you keep it to yourself, when you could have made it vibrant and living by sharing it with other people? You say you followed the rules. Anyone could have done that; I was hoping for something more from you. I invested My love, My grace, My life in you—why couldn’t you have at least tried to make better use of these gifts?”

How sad it will be if we hear God speak words like these; how disappointed we’ll be in ourselves if we have to admit that we never really tried. We must live instead so that one day we’ll hear those glorious words “Come, share your Master’s joy.” When God entrusts a lot to us, He expects a lot back—not necessarily successful results, but certainly an honest effort. All of us have a responsibility in the Lord’s eyes to use wisely and well the gifts and talents and opportunities we’ve received. Yes, there is a risk involved; yes, it can be hard to try; yes, it would be easier if we could play it safe—but that’s not the reality we face. Life is a challenge. If we take the risk of living it the way God wants us to, it will also become a blessing.

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Fr Joseph Esper
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Fr Joseph Esper