Frequently we encounter this rejection in the form of criticism, criticism of our efforts, our work, even ourselves.
There are times when, despite our best efforts, we fail. Even though we know that our ministry is desperately needed, we are sometimes rejected.
Jesus told us to work hard. He told us that there would be difficulties because we are as lambs going out among wolves. He cautioned us to put our trust in God, not in our own resources. And He encouraged us to stay focused on our mission and avoid distractions.
And even though we go out well prepared, He told us that we would encounter rejection.
But we are prepared for this as well.
How does a Christian deal with failure? As Christ told us, we shake the dust from our feet and move on. We are bearers of the Good News, and every person is free to embrace or reject God’s grace. Christ Himself could not convince everyone to follow Him, should we expect anything different?
Saint Paul didn't. That is why he wrote “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Saint Paul always emphasized the burden of the cross because it was on the cross that Christ achieved His greatest glory by showing His love for us. The love Christ and the Father have for us knows no limits.
But at the same time the cross is a sign of people's free rejection of the Gospel. We should always be prepared to face rejection.
Saint Sebastian's Failure
Most of us are familiar with Saint Sebastian through the various works of art that show him riddled with arrows. It is understandable to assume he died from these arrow wounds but that was not the case.
Sebastian was a Christian soldier serving in the Roman army late in the third century. He was a member of the Imperial Guards who lived in Rome and took care of the Emperor and the Palace.
During the many persecutions, he would secretly encourage the Christians whom he was supposed to be persecuting. He would visit them in prison, protect them, provide for them - he even harbored the pope and some aristocratic converts inside the imperial palace itself.
Eventually, though, his moment of trial came. He was denounced and condemned to death by arrows.
As they tied him to a pillar, St Sebastian exhorted his executioners to believe in Christ. Then a dispatch of soldiers shot him full of arrows and left him for dead.
At that point, a Roman noblewoman who was also an undercover Christian took custody of his body. When she realized that he was still breathing, she had him brought to her residence and nursed him back to life. As soon as he was strong again, she encouraged him to escape into the countryside.
But instead, St Sebastian went back into the imperial palace and took up his old guard post. As the Emperor passed him by, the saint once again encouraged him to abandon his idolatry and believe in Christ. The enraged Emperor ordered the other soldiers to club him to death immediately.
It was apparent failures like these that ended up converting the entire Roman Empire to Christianity. In fact, the whole history of the Church has followed a similar pattern: cross, then resurrection. So we shouldn't be surprised when we find ourselves on the same path.
In many ways our culture today is just as hostile to Christ and the Christian way of life as it was under the time of the Great Persecution. When we try to live out Christ's teachings, defend our faith, and build up the Church, we often run into resistance, mockery, and humiliation.
Jesus knew we would; but still He calls us to be His ambassadors, spreading the Good News in spite of the rejection we encounter. The truth is, our purpose may be to soften the ground for the workers who will come after us. If we fail, think of each failure as a drop of water hitting a rock of resistance. Over time, and many drops of water, the rock breaks down.
One of the greatest threats against us is discouragement. It is easy to feel we did something wrong, or we are not up to the task. If we let these thoughts settle into our hearts they stifle us and make us content to accept less.
Frequently we encounter this rejection in the form of criticism, criticism of our efforts, our work, even ourselves. Some criticism may be helpful. It allows us to take a step back and honestly evaluate our work and consider ways in which we might improve. But there is another type of criticism that is aimed, not at our selves or our the quality of our work, but at the message our work conveys. If we have grounded our lives in the truth of the gospel, if that grounding is reflected in our work and if we continually strive to improve the quality of our work, then we need not fear rejection or discouragement.
There is an old axiom, “Blessed are those who expect nothing, they will not be disappointed.” The truth is that discouragement is just disappointment over unfulfilled expectations. But Christ reminds us of what our expectations should be. We will face obstacles, be rejected and persecuted. If we know this then we need not be discouraged. We can be humble, trust in Christ, wipe the dust from our feet, and move on.
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Pontifex University is an online university offering a Master’s Degree in Sacred Arts. For more information visit the website at www.pontifex.university
Lawrence Klimecki, MSA, is a deacon in the Diocese of Sacramento. He is a public speaker, writer, and artist, reflecting on the intersection of art and faith and the spiritual “hero’s journey” that is part of every person’s life. He maintains a blog at www.DeaconLawrence.organd can be reached at Lawrence@deaconlawrence.com