If Success Is Unattainable, Why Even Try?

by Gospels, Self-Knowledge

Gospel of Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to listen to Jesus,
but the Pharisees and scribes began to complain, saying,
“This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
So to them Jesus addressed this parable:
“A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father,
‘Father give me the share of your estate that should come to me.’
So the father divided the property between them.
After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings
and set off to a distant country
where he squandered his inheritance on a life of dissipation.
When he had freely spent everything,
a severe famine struck that country,
and he found himself in dire need.
So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens
who sent him to his farm to tend the swine.
And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which the swine fed,
but nobody gave him any.
Coming to his senses he thought,
‘How many of my father’s hired workers
have more than enough food to eat,
but here am I, dying from hunger.
I shall get up and go to my father and I shall say to him,
“Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.
I no longer deserve to be called your son;
treat me as you would treat one of your hired workers.”’
So he got up and went back to his father.
While he was still a long way off,
his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion.
He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.
His son said to him,
‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you;
I no longer deserve to be called your son.’
But his father ordered his servants,
‘Quickly bring the finest robe and put it on him;
put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.
Take the fattened calf and slaughter it.
Then let us celebrate with a feast,
because this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again;
he was lost, and has been found.’
Then the celebration began.
Now the older son had been out in the field
and, on his way back, as he neared the house,
he heard the sound of music and dancing.
He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean.
The servant said to him,
‘Your brother has returned
and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf
because he has him back safe and sound.’
He became angry,
and when he refused to enter the house,
his father came out and pleaded with him.
He said to his father in reply,
‘Look, all these years I served you
and not once did I disobey your orders;
yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends.
But when your son returns
who swallowed up your property with prostitutes,
for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’
He said to him,
‘My son, you are here with me always;
everything I have is yours.
But now we must celebrate and rejoice,
because your brother was dead and has come to life again;
he was lost and has been found.’”

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Sunday Gospel Reflection

Easter is rapidly approaching and Lent will be over soon.  At the halfway point, I think it serves us well to revisit our Lenten commitments.  I frequently hear Lenten practices compared to New Year’s resolutions in that people sometimes want to quit if they fail at all in the process.  New Year’s resolutions are quickly abandoned after a slip-up because the entirety of the resolution is looked at as a failure.  The same happens with Lent and it is easy to give up if we look at it as a “failure” for not making it the whole forty days without a slip-up. 

The reality is that we will fail repeatedly in our efforts to be better, whether it is in trying to avoid sin or in praying more fervently.  If we view things as total success or total failure, we will only ever get discouraged.  When we view our spiritual endeavors, or any goals for that matter, in this black and white fashion, we will ultimately be left discouraged and despairing.  Success essentially becomes unattainable.  If success is unattainable, why even try? 

The reality is that our honest effort to be holier and sin less is success in and of itself.  Our daily dedication to this mission is the success story, not the minutes prayed or sins committed.  This does not give us an excuse to be lazy or to refrain from challenging ourselves, but it does give us the opportunity to see ourselves as more than simply successes and failures.  If you find yourself giving up on Lent because of a few mistakes, consider reflecting on Psalm 73:26.

My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength of my heart
    and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26
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