Joy in failure seems like an oxymoron, yet as the early Church took shape, the evangelization efforts of the disciples met with mixed reactions.
In this time after Easter, the story unfolds as we read from the Acts of the Apostles daily at Mass. In Acts (4:13-21) we heard how Peter and John were reprimanded by the chief priests and elders for preaching and curing in Jesus’ name. About a week later, Acts (5:34-42) revealed the Apostles not only being ordered to stop teaching about Jesus, but flogged for their efforts. “So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they had been found worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” Most recently the reading from Acts (13:44-52) relates the dismissal of Paul and Barnabas from a territory: “they shook the dust from their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.” Even when people rejected them, they still rejoiced.
Looking at it more than 2,000 years later, we can say that since they were converting some people, that gave them cause to be happy. Another insight could be that since Jesus was rejected by the elders & chief priests, the disciples were happy to suffer in the same way. The Jewish authorities weren’t as important to the disciples as was the love and relationship they had with Jesus. And with the confidence of the Holy Spirit, they were able to accept this rejection by the Jewish leadership. But could the cause of their joy be much simpler than that? Could it be that the delight they took in speaking of Jesus to others, doing this work they were called to do, gave them the ability to rejoice in all circumstances? Whether others believed or not, they were carrying out their responsibility by proclaiming this Good News. And rather than dwelling on the failure, they did what Jesus had taught them and turned their outlook towards other communities to share the gospel.
While some look at evangelizing as winning others over to Jesus, it’s not a numbers game. Some Catholics are too fearful to evangelize, not wanting to impose their beliefs on others. But if we share the love Jesus has for us with others, we introduce them to Jesus. We can talk about our relationship with Jesus as if He were the head of the family; after all, we are all members of the same family of God! Just because those we evangelize may not choose to immediately accept Jesus into their lives, it’s not necessarily a loss. The seeds we plant may one day bear fruit because lives change over time,
The Acts of the Apostles records many failures in the early Church. Yet each year as we read the activities of the first Christians, we realize their love and sharing of Jesus reaches across the millennia to our day. We, in turn, celebrate the joy they took in their successful “failures.”