Spirituality for Today – September 2009 – Volume 14, Issue 2

Believing The Best Is Not Easy

By Msgr. Frank C. Wissel, D.Min.

From time to time, we all read about the work of some con artist. This is a person who steals without the use of a gun.

His method is to win people's confidence and then cheat them out of their money.

The best defense against this kind of thief is to develop a healthy skepticism. Law enforcement people offer this advice, "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

That is to say, "It probably is too good to be true." In other words, it is probably false.

Suppose a salesman calls you on the phone and offers you the chance of a lifetime. All you have to do is make one small investment of $5,000.

And in less than a year, there's a very good chance your investment will be worth $20,000. Now that sounds good. It means that you'll be making 400 percent of your money. What should you do? I would recommend you hang up.

As a priest I don't pretend to be an investment counselor, but I do remember those words of advice, "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is." In a world filled with con artists, we would all be wise to develop a healthy skepticism.

And yet the New Testament calls for the opposite approach. There we are challenged to believe in the best. Its slogan might be, "In God's world, nothing is too good to be true." But believing in the best is not easy. Let us remember how the disciples struggled to believe that Jesus is alive from the dead.

There is an example of this in a Gospel passage where it was late in the evening on the first Easter.

The disciples were together somewhere in Jerusalem. Jesus suddenly joined the group and the disciples were frightened out of their minds. They thought they were seeing a ghost.

This was not the first appearance of the risen Christ. He had already appeared to Peter. And Peter had told them all about that experience. He appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus and they were in the midst of sharing that experience when he appeared.

So why the disciples were so frightened at this appearance is somewhat puzzling. It was not as if Jesus had come as a bolt from the blue. All his disciples had been told that he was alive again.

And some had actually seen him. But still, when he stood in their midst, they thought he was a ghost. Why was that? I think it was because the real Easter event seemed too good to be true. Nothing that good ever happened. Certainly not to them. It was not easy for those first disciples to believe in the best. And it is not easy for you and me today.

One reason for this is our own sense of unworthiness. It is hard to believe in the best when we know the worst about ourselves. That thought must have been in the minds of those first disciples. All of them had failed, and failed miserably. Peter most of all.

...as long as we believe that God is in the picture, nothing is too good to be true.

He had been so sure of his loyalty to Christ. He had boasted shamelessly of his courage and commitment. All of the others might fail, but he never would. He would die first. But when the chips were down, Peter failed, just as Jesus predicted, and he was so ashamed of himself that he went out and wept bitterly.

How could he expect the best when his own heart was filled with self-recrimination? He knew that this was the very last thing he deserved.

On a lesser scale, something similar has happened to all of us. We have failed, and we know it. What then gives us the right to expect the best from life? Just to get by would be enough. We would settle for that. Our best dreams and our highest hopes are lost. And we can never get them back.

Of course, the good news in all of this is that God does not deal with us on the basis of merit. He never has. But somehow, we keep thinking he does.

When things go wrong in our lives, our first questions are, "Why? What have I ever done that would bring all of this upon me?" When things go right, we ask the same question. "What have I ever done to deserve this good fortune?'

In the movie, "The Sound of Music," a young man sings to a young woman, "Here I am standing here loving you, whether or not I should.

So somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good." It's a pretty little song, but a wrong concept. God is not doling out his good gifts to those who deserve them. His favor is always a matter of grace, not merit.

Another thing that makes it hard for us to believe in the best is that it seems so impossible. Some of us dream of a world of peace.

We dream of a day when all the military will return from our current wars. But cynics tell us that will never happen. Jesus himself said, "There shall be wars and rumors of wars."

So you see how hard it is to believe in the best. But let us remember that as long as we believe that God is in the picture, nothing is too good to be true.