Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Sermon / Homily on John 21:1-14

Failure, Success, and God

by Rev. Fr. Vijay Thomas

Gospel: St. John 21:1-14

In an inspiring TED talk by the author of the famous book "Eat, Pray, Love", Elizabeth Gilbert discussed her difficulties in overcoming the challenges she faced in order to become a successful writer. For six years she endured rejection letters from publishing companies that did not find her writing to be worth printing. But she continued to write regardless of all of the failures. She continued writing and trying to seek success despite her continued failure.

This Sunday's Gospel reading carries a similar message as it depicts the struggles of the disciples after Jesus Christ's resurrection. Peter and the other disciples decided to go fishing. They worked all night to catch fish but they were unable. They failed at catching any fish. It must have been the most frustrating time for Peter and the other disciples. They had left fishing to go follow Jesus Christ. They had given up their jobs in order to follow him. They had done amazing things and seen great miracles while following Jesus Christ. However, when Jesus Christ left them to conquer death, they were left without direction. So, they went back to their original occupation, fishing. But in their first attempt to return to their jobs, they failed!

As the sun was rising that morning, the disciples must have been exhausted and troubled by their inability to be successful. Then, a man that they did not recognize directed them to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. They did not need to listen to him. But they decided to obey the direction given to them by someone else. And their obedience to this man allowed them to catch more fish than then their net could hold.

Once Peter and the other disciples realized their success, one amongst them exclaimed, "It is the Lord!" This statement is a brilliant and important realization. The disciples understood that their success was a result of one person, Jesus Christ. Their efforts had not produced results but the success that they had was not a product of their efforts alone.

One important reason that the disciples recognized Jesus Christ with their success is because they had failed. Their failure to catch any fish caused them to lose all pride. They were humbled and broken by their consistent failure. This state of humility and brokenness allowed them to open their eyes to listen and obey someone else. And this state of lowliness allowed them to know that it was Jesus Christ.

So, this Sunday's Gospel message is an important teaching for all of us who seek to be successful. In our community, we all push to get the best grades in school, best jobs, and the greatest production in all our endeavors. Some of us might be successful but we all will be faced with failure at some point in our lives. We fail a class or we are unable to graduate from our desired degree or we lose our jobs. We fail. But how do we move forward?

As a priest, I want to be successful. I want to edify the faithful, help those in need, and convert the nations. I want to build a parish that is growing in size and faith. But often, I don't see those successes. I rather see stumbling blocks and troubles. I see a community struggling to obey the Gospel. I try with clever programs and activities to attract people to the Church and her message. But like the disciples, it feels as if I have caught no fish.

But the Gospel message for this Sunday reminds us of three important lessons about success and failure.

1. Failure is not a reason to quit.

Sometimes failure is a necessary part of the journey in order to discover something greater. The failure of the disciples led them to their state of humility and ultimately to recognize Jesus Christ. Our failure may be necessary because we are too prideful and arrogant. Our failure is all part of God refining us like silver in the fire.

2. Learn to listen.

There are always people willing to give us advice. We must be careful who we take direction from. But like the disciples, we must be humble enough to obey the words of a stranger, because it might be advice from God himself.

3. Success is not ours alone.

In every success, we have the danger of becoming prideful to think that it is solely by our efforts that we accomplished the goal. As the disciples, we need to see our success as cry out, "It is the Lord!" Before pride can blind our understanding, we need to give thanks and glory to God for all good things.

Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of "Eat, Pray, Love", found herself struggling to continue to write after being successful. She was worried about disappointing her audience by not producing something as notable. Her focus was on the praise of others. Her pride from her one successful book caused her to lose her way forward. In Elizabeth's analysis, she found that the struggle to continue is the same regardless if you succeed or fail. In both success and failure, there requires something more to continue forward.

So, what is it that we need to continue forward? How do we overcome failure? And how do we continue after success?

We must never lose sight of our final goal. And our final goal is not success in this world. Our final goal is heaven. Our final goal is unity with Jesus Christ. Our final goal is to be with God. If we can keep this perspective, every endeavor, every failure, and every success would only be one step forward on our journey to Christ.

All glory and honor to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, One True God. Amen.

Source: ICON

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