Success and Failure
I thought I had toiled in vain,
and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,
yet my reward is with the Lord.
The First Reading begins with the voice of God’s servant telling us that he has a vocation from the Lord. God has made him into a sharp-edged sword, a polished arrow, an impressive weapon of the Lord’s.
This weapon isn’t meant for the destruction of people, though. It’s meant for the destruction of the evil that keeps people from God. The servant of God is called to bring God’s people, the Israelites, back to God.
This is a great vocation, isn’t it?
But then the voice of God’s servant continues, and it tells us what has become of this great vocation. “I toiled in vain,” God’s servant says. He worked hard; but, as it turns out, he thinks that he spent his strength uselessly. In short, God’s servant thinks that he failed, failed, failed! Here is what has come of all his labor: NOTHING!
What person who is past adolescence does not remember his youthful enthusiasms with perplexity? What happened to those dreams, those hopes, those great desires to serve the Lord gloriously? And what person who is past mid-life does not shake his head sadly over the results of his life’s labor? Where did all that work and toil go? How did it come to so little?
What happened to the call of the Lord to each of us, to serve him gloriously?
The answer is implicit in the next part of the dialogue in the First Reading.
The voice of the Lord answers the voice of God’s servant. It is too little for you just to bring the Israelites back to God, the Lord says. No, you will do this and much more! You will be a light to all the nations, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.
And so here is the lesson for us in our sadness, in our perplexity, in all our failure. In the First Reading, after all his discouragement, this is what God’s servant says: my God is my strength. I will be glorious in the sight of the Lord.
Our hope is in the strength of the Lord, not in our own strength. And if we are not glorious in our own eyes, we will yet be glorious in the eyes of the Lord. It is a wonderful hope, isn’t it?
**From Saint Louis University