I have many friends who are not about my age. Some of them are much older than me, and some are much younger. My youngest friend is a 5-year-old girl called Cierra. Yesterday she was excited to tell me the good news:
"I got five over five!" said Cierra.
"She got five over five in spelling," her mom explained to me.
"Wow! Can you tell me one of the words?" I asked.
"How do you spell ‘like’?" her mom helped her.
"L-I-K-E!" answered Cierra.
"I’m proud of you," her mom said and smiled brilliantly.
"I’m proud of you too," I smiled and said.
For my youngest friend Cierra, five over five is a big success. For many sophisticated adults, however, there are too many superficial concepts about the definition of success. How do people measure success?
Many think it is the amount of money they own in the bank. Others think it is the amount of property they own, or how much investments they have. Some think it is how much public recognition they get, or how popular they are, or how much pleasure they can get, whether morally or immorally, out of their life or out of other people’s? Some would think: How pretty am I? How educated am I? How attractive am I? How intelligent am I?
What happens to these people when their concepts of success fail? They are lost and confused. Take the Lehman Brothers as an example, their bankruptcy has profound repercussions on the banking industry. In some places, misguided investors have become hostile to the wealth management products as well as the banking industry. Some have drowned themselves with drugs and alcohol. Just a few days ago, my students came across the term ‘the Great Depression’ on one of their textbooks. I had to briefly explain to them what happened. In October 1929, the stock market in the United States crashed. In the following year, during the period we call the Great Depression, businesses were closing, jobs were scarce, banks were shutting down, and millions of people lost their life savings. Many committed suicide.
About two thousand years ago, a young man in his thirties called Jesus was lifted high on a cross on Mount Calvary. Some thought he was a criminal. Some thought he was a great prophet. Some thought he was a rabbi without receiving any formal training. Some expected him to lead the Israelites to overthrow the Roman Empire. His death on the cross was fitting only for the most notorious criminals. His life was an apparent failure.
After three hours of agony of mind and body, he cried out, "It is finished!" ( John 19:30 ) Then he bowed his head and died.
But what did he mean by that? What was finished?
One day, his disciples asked among themselves if anyone had brought him any food, to which he replied, "My food is to obey the will of the one who sent me and to finish the work he gave me to do." ( John 4:34 ) On another occasion, Jesus explained to the people about the bread of life, he said, "…..because I have come down from heaven to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me." ( John 6:38 )
He came to carry out the Father’s will. When he was on the cross, he proudly told his Father that he had finished carrying out the will assigned to him. That was what he meant on the cross!
During his short life of thirty three years, he worked, preached, was ridiculed, and died. He did not come to seek his own glory. When he was on the cross, the people passing by shouted, "If he comes down off the cross now, we will believe in him!" ( Matthew 27:42 ) He did not come down from the cross because he once said, “I am not looking for human praise." ( John 5:41 )
His death seemed to be an apparent failure but was a complete success in the eyes of the Father who sent him. His death was the greatest success because his death saved the whole world. He was a success because he did not care what other people thought of him. What was in his mind was ‘What does the Father think?’
God has given each and everyone of us a specific task to do – a task that no one else can do for you. Have we used to the utmost of our God-given abilities for Him and for the well-being of our neighbours? If we have, then at the end of our lives, we can boast that our ‘failures’ in people’s eyes are not failures at all because, like our Lord on the cross, we will have spent our lives glorifying God by carrying out His will to love Him and our neighbours. Then we can, like Jesus on the cross, proudly proclaim: "It is finished!"
He will smile, more brilliantly than Cierra’s mom to Cierra, and say to us, "I’m proud of you."