July 5 2015 Reflection

6th Sunday after Pentecost
‘Failure: A Way to Obedience and Humility

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

Mark 6:1-13


A reporter once asked a very successful president of a big bank,
“Sir, what is the secret to your success?”
“Two words,” the President said, “Right Decisions.”
“And how do you make right decisions?” asked the Reporter.
“One word, ” said the President, “Experience.”
“And how do you get experience?” asked the Reporter again.
“Two words,” answered the President, “Wrong Decisions.”[1]

Jesus’ ministry was not all about success as well. Failures also accompanied him in his ministry. This may sound rather strange to many of us here. After all, he was the Son of God, so how could he fail? But the Gospels never portray Jesus as a man who never failed. Indeed, the reading that we have today from Mark put God’s ministry in Jesus within the scope of human’s constraints.[2]

Today’s reading is one of those stories that show the limitation that Jesus had to face in his ministry. Back in Nazareth, the people of his own hometown rejected him.

They rejected him not because they didn’t know who Jesus was, but because they knew him very well.[3] They knew that, before he began his ministry, Jesus was ‘only’ a carpenter, a vocation that didn’t make him a part of the educated class.[4] Indeed, in a society where one’s belonging to certain social class was crucial to one’s acceptability, Jesus’ previous profession had worked against him.

He was also called as the son of Mary. There was no mention of Joseph. Perhaps, by the time Jesus returned to Nazareth, Joseph had already died. Perhaps, the crowd tried to remind him of the rumour that he was an illegitimate son whose true biological father was not clear.[5] Or, perhaps, the crowd was trying to accuse Jesus of running away from his responsibility to look after his mother as the eldest son in his family.[6] Whatever was the reason, the villagers used his past-life as a tool to discredit him. They wanted him to be who he was supposed to be: one of them and not as someone above them.

As the result of this rejection, Jesus couldn’t perform many miracles there. The villagers’ attitude towards him had become a significant hindrance for him to do his ministry effectively. Yet, it didn’t end his ministry. Jesus didn’t stop there. Instead, in the next part of the story, he sent his disciples to go out to other villages to proclaim the Gospel there. But he sent them with a warning: just like he was rejected in Nazareth, they too would get rejection in some places. But they must be ready to ‘shake off’ the rejection and keep moving until they find people who would receive the Gospel.

Indeed, Jesus wanted the disciples to see rejection as something inherent in their ministry. Like Jesus himself, they would not always be welcomed or be successful in their ministry. But the measure of Jesus’ ministry was not success. After all, he ended up on the cross not on the throne. The measure of his ministry was his obedience to do his Father’s will and not his own will.

Obedience was also the foundation of the ministry of the great Apostle, Paul. In the part of his letter to the Corinthians that we read today, Paul was responding to the charge that his opponents had levelled against him. They told the Corinthians that even though Paul was persuasive in his letters, his charisma when he was present was weak and he was not a good speaker.[7] They tried to show to the Corinthians that they had more charisma and gifts than Paul thus they should replace him as the leader.

Paul responded in his letter to this accusation, first of all, by showing that he had been endowed with a spiritual experience that should affirm his spiritual credibility. Yet, rather then boasting on this experience, he chose to boast on his weaknesses instead. Yes, Paul didn’t deny that he had weaknesses. (He had tried to overcome his weaknesses, three times!) But, he had learnt that it was when he was weak, when he encountered his limitation, that he found his true strength from God.

Even more, he saw his weaknesses, his ‘thorn in the flesh’, as God’s way to keep him humble. If his spiritual experience had confirmed his status as an Apostle, leader of the church, his ‘thorn in the flesh’ was God’s way to keep his feet planted firmly on the ground.

Grady Wilson was one of the original members of the team that accompanied the world famous American Evangelist, Billy Graham. One day, when he was giving a talk in the College Avenue Baptist Church, a person asked Grady: How had Billy stayed humble all those years after experiencing so much success? Grady replied by saying that when the team was first formed, they made a deal with Billy that if God would keep him anointed, they would keep him humble.[8]

Friends, no ministry is perfect, not even Jesus’ or Paul’s. But we can learn to accept rejection/failure not only as an inherent part of ministry, but also as a tool to make us more humble and more dependent on God.

Indeed, success in ministry should not be measured by how charismatic or influential or important we are in the eyes of others. True success in ministry should be measured by how much we have been obedient to God and God’s call in our life.

Friends, success in ministry is not about overcoming all of our problems or limitations or weaknesses. Success in ministry is about being obedient to God regardless of our failures and weaknesses. Just like Jesus asked the disciples to depend not on their own preparation but on God’s providence, we too are to depend our ministry not on our strength, but on God.


[1] http://www.notboring.com/jokes/work/1.htm
[2] Seasons Fusions for Congregational Life, Pentecost 1 (May 31 to August 30 2015), p. 94
[3] Seasons Fusions for Congregational Life, Pentecost 1 (May 31 to August 30 2015), p. 94
[4] Seasons Fusions for Congregational Life, Pentecost 1 (May 31 to August 30 2015), p. 94
[5] See Emerson Powery, Commentary on Mark 6:1-13, on http://www.workingpreacher.org (July 8 2012)
[6] Seasons Fusions for Congregational Life, Pentecost 1 (May 31 to August 30 2015), p. 94
[7] See 2 Corinthians 10: 10
[8] Dave Kraft, Mistakes Leaders Make, Crossway: Illinois (2012), p.2