Disappointment vs His-appointment
Disappointment vs His-appointment
(see Fr Anthony Coniaris, This is My Beloved Son, vol.1, pp.37-49)
Xronia Polla! Many Years to everyone on this glorious Sunday of All Saints! Today we commemorate all those who showed us how to be filled with God’s holiness: the Ancestors of Christ, the Old Testament Patriarchs, Prophets and Righteous, the Apostles, Martyrs, Ascetics and Hierarchs of the Church, the anonymous or unknown saints and of course the Panagia—the All-Holy Virgin Mary Theotokos.
In today’s Epistle from Hebrews 11:33-12:2, we hear about the tragedies and triumphs of these holy persons: tortures (v.35), mocking, floggings, chains, imprisonment (v.36), stoning, being sawn in two, killed by the sword, destitute, persecuted, tormented (v.37), and exiles (v.38). And what was their reward for all their sufferings. In verse 39 we hear, “Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised.”
Can you imagine going through any one of these adversities and not receiving a reward, especially one that was promised? Even though none of us have experienced these extreme punishments, all of us have experienced disappointment. It happens when we expect something from ourselves or others and we do not receive it.
Think of Joseph, who was loved very much by his father Jacob. But out of jealousy, his brothers kidnap him and leave him to die in the desert. Think of Moses who led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt and then had to deal with their whiny faithless stubbornness in the wilderness for forty years. What was his reward? He was not allowed to enter the Promised Land!
If the Epistle ended at verse 39 then suffering and disappointment would be meaningless, a true tragedy. However, reading the next verse 40, the suffering and disappointment is filled with meaning and purpose. 40since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect. God had something better in mind! Thus, the denial or delay in reward was not due to cruelty or indifference. Rather it was delayed for an even greater reward. That greater reward is eternal life in heaven with all the other saints—a communion of Saints—a holy community of God’s people. For the Israelites of the Old Testament, the greater reward was the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ incarnate and risen from the dead.
That same greater reward awaits every follower of Christ since then. And knowing the greater reward that awaits us can change the whole meaning of our life right here, right now! Thus, we can now look at disappointments not as dead ends but as turns in the road. Going back to Joseph, the son of Jacob, after he was left for dead by his brothers, was rescued only to be sold by slave-traders. But Joseph remained faithful to God and eventually became the great in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. And when famine struck Israel, and Joseph had the power to rescue or take revenge on his brothers, he told them: 20But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. (Genesis 50:20).
Can we be like the righteous Joseph and start seeing our disappointments as His-appointments. It’s a new word, ‘His-appointments,’ starting with capital ‘H’ ‘His’ appointments. In other words, being appointed by God for some greater purpose and some better reward. Look at the Apostle Paul. Towards the end of his letter to the Christians in Rome he writes, “24whenever I journey to Spain, I shall come to you. For I hope to see you on my journey, and to be helped on my way there by you, if first I may enjoy your company for a while (Romans 15:24). However, Paul never made it to Spain. Instead, he ended up in a cold, dirty prison cell. God provided something better, because from that prison cell, Paul wrote one of his finest letters that has inspired millions of people ever since. A letter that probably would not have been written if he had gone to Spain.
Many of you may have heard me say that God often closes doors in our life. These are places we need to leave or should not go but they are not dead-ends because when God closes a door, He always opens another one. Closed doors may be disappointments but open doors are His-appointments. We must have the courage to walk through them. King David wrote in the Psalms: The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, And He delights in his way. 24Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the Lord upholds him with His hand. (Ps.37:23-24).
However, if our relationship with God is disordered, we will be consumed by the disappointments in our life. We will become bitter, angry, resentful. We will stop praying, we will stop going to liturgy, we will look for excuses and blame others for our disappointments. We will have doubt and despair. But discontent often is God’s way of showing us that something is not complete in our life. There is a hole, but it usually is a God-shaped hole, one that only God can properly fill. Anything else either will not fit or it will not be enough. Thus, despite all the disappointments that we will inevitably encounter throughout our life, we can still be content when, and only when we are filled with God’s fulness, His holiness.
Let us close today with a story from Corrie Ten Boom. If you don’t know Corrie, she was a Dutch watchmaker and Christian who, along with her father and other family members, helped many Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust during World War II by hiding them in her closet. Corrie heard about a mother who lost her child. After the child died she became very bitter and rebellious. One day she noticed a shepherd trying to get a herd of sheep to cross a narrow foot bridge. After many tries without success, the shepherd grabbed one of the little baby lambs that had been clinging closely to its mother. The shepherd walked across the bridge, and the mother, bleating loudly, chased after the shepherd. All the rest of the sheep followed the mother.
Let us remember the final two verses of today’s Epistle. 12:1Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of God.
In today’s Gospel reading, from Matthew, we hear:
19:27Then Peter said in reply, "Look, we have left everything and followed You. What then will we have?" 28Jesus said to them, "Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man is seated on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
Let us start to see our disappointments, even the death of a loved one, as Jesus our Good Shepherd leading us to a better pasture, eternal life, the very throne of God in heaven. God has provided, He has appointed, something better for us so that we may be perfected together with all His Saints, whom we commemorate on this day. Amen!