The story is told of Joseph of Arimathea, the wealthy businessman who donated his own tomb for Jesus’ burial. When news of his generous gesture spread amongst Joseph’s business colleagues, a number of them went to see him. “Joseph, are you sure you know what you’re doing, giving your tomb to this Jesus of Nazareth? Tombs are very valuable and yours is the best in the cemetery,” they implored.
“Oy Vay”, Joseph replied, “don’t be concerned, it’s only for the weekend.”
Joseph of Arimathea was a hero of the faith. Practical faith. Confident faith. Legend has it that Joseph travelled far and wide throughout the Roman Empire – even to Britain – spreading the gospel.
To many of his followers, Jesus’ crucifixion was a disaster. His life had ended in failure. Not to Joseph. Or to people like Australia’s Les Murray:
“Some of the events surrounding Jesus’ ministry looked like political rallies. But Jesus was different. Unlike most would-be messiahs, Jesus did not give people what they thought they wanted. He did not become a creature of His audience. Instead, he gave them difficult truths, valid for all time and all people. All they wanted was a hero-king who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel’s former glory. But if he had yielded to that demand (which of course he could have), he may have been seen as a great success in the world’s eyes but would have been just another name in the history books. Instead, we all know what happened.
“We shouldn’t see ourselves as a ‘team’ or ‘army’ that has to go out and ‘win for God.’ He’s not helpless – and anyway, his idea of a win is the Cross.”
But back to Joseph of Arimathea. Joseph was an experienced businessman who would have had his fair share of losses and failures. He would have agreed with Winston Churchill (pictured) that, ‘success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm’. Or Henry Ford’s ‘failure is simply the opportunity to begin again; this time more intelligently’. Or Noel Coward’s ‘the secret of success is the capacity to survive failure’.
Some places of the soul can be reached only through failure and suffering. It’s during difficult times that God reveals many of His truths. The Jesuits teach that ‘those whom God loves the most, He allows to suffer the most’. He draws them close.
Of all the disciples, Jesus chose Peter to become the leader of his new church. It was Peter who preached the first gospel message at Pentecost establishing the Christian church. Yet it was Peter, who on the night before Jesus was crucified, denied three times that he even knew Jesus. Jesus did not choose the disciple closest to him, John the Divine, who wrote both the magnificent Gospel according to John and the Book of Revelation; or the brilliant intellectual and academic Paul who wrote most of New Testament theology. No, to head up the church, he chose Peter, the one who had failed him.
The Old Testament’s Saul became king of Israel without going through suffering. His character never developed and he became an envious, shallow man. David on the other hand, spent years in suffering and heartache. When he finally became king, God said David was ‘a man after my own heart’.
We should not resent or despise failure or suffering. They develop character like no other.
They say it’s the grit that forms the pearl. Suffering, difficulties, trials are the grit that leads to the pearl.
Our lives will be an inspiration to those who watch us face the trials that come our way.
What we lose in the flames, we find in the ashes.