Thursday, January 19, 2012

Wisdom Gleaned from SNL

I was watching SNL with Anna the other day, and one of their skits was about a show called "You Can Do Anything!" It brilliantly satirized the modern culture of endless affirmation. One contestant was going to juggle ten bowling pins, and on hearing that he had never juggled before, the hosts encouraged him, saying "You can do anything!" When he failed spectacularly, failing to catch a single pin, they continued encouraging him, saying "Now, when people ask you if you can juggle, you can say yes!" My favorite line, however, came at the end, when the last contestant unveiled his skill of combining Irish dancing with Chinese calligraphy (spoiler: it doesn't go as well as you'd think). His final line after finishing his skill is "I tried, and therefore no one should criticize me."

Now, some of you may have stopped laughing (if you ever were), because this culture has even pervaded the church. There is the attitude that God doesn't care whether you fail or succeed at what you're trying to do: All that matters is that you try. If you fail, then it's certainly not your fault: God must not have wanted you to succeed in the first place! And this is all fantastic and very comforting and affirming to everyone involved, but there's one problem: This is not how Jesus acted. On the contrary...

Many of you are familiar with the Transfiguration. Jesus takes his three closest disciples--James, John, and Peter--up to a mountain to witness his Transfiguration. But we're going to look at what happens immediately after that, in Matthew 17, Mark 9, and Luke 9. After the transfiguration, they begin making their way back to the other disciples. But there's something unusual going on: A crowd of people are gathered around the other disciples, arguing with them. Jesus asks what they're arguing about, and a man begs Jesus to look at his son, because the disciples were unable to heal him.

Now look how Jesus reacts. He doesn't go over to the disciples, put his arm around them, and say, "There, there. It's alright. You tried, and that's all that matters to me. I don't care that you failed." On the contrary. Jesus answers "Oh faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you?" Jesus is positively pissed. But who is he angry at? He's not angry at the guy who brings his son to him: That guy is demonstrating his faithfulness by bringing the boy to Jesus in the first place. The only logical explanation is that he is angry at the disciples. And why is he angry?

Because they failed. Or, more accurately, because of their lack of faith, which directly caused them to fail (see Matthew 17:19-20). Now, there are times when, despite having done almost everything right, we still fail. In that case, God probably does have something else in mind for us. But in this case, it's not that Jesus planned for the disciples to fail. It's not as though they did everything right and God just wanted to teach them something. Most importantly, it's not as though God put them in a situation where they were destined to fail. God gave them an opportunity: To cast out this demon, demonstrating to the crowd that their rabbi has given them that power from God. God had given the disciples everything they needed to succeed, and then he gave them an opportunity to shine... and they blew it. And Jesus is rightfully angry at them, because the responsibility for their failure lies firmly on their shoulders. (And the vehemence of his response leads me to believe that the disciples weren't exactly accepting responsibility for it.)

This isn't just an angry rant. When you fail, don't just brush it off as if it were something unavoidable, as if God had simply doomed you to fail.  Examine yourself, see what you could have done differently, and accept criticism. Then prepare yourself for the next challenge. There is a difference between success and failure, victory and defeat, and in the disciples' case, their actions were what tipped the scale. Pray in faith, and be victorious.

No comments:

Post a Comment