I was meditating on John 11, for personal Bible Study earlier today. It is the story of the raising of Lazarus. And I was struck by the following lines:

[Martha and Mary] sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.” Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Therefore, when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days…..[Later. Jesus] told [his disciples] plainly, “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

One of the harder truths of life is that our life is not about us. Neither are we the most important thing or person in the world. Rather we exist in and for the glory of God and our ultimate glory in to be caught up in and be part of God’s glory and his Kingdom. Further, we also exist, not only for our own sake but also for the sake of others.

And we see some of this in this story of Lazarus. Jesus speaks of Lazarus’ grave illness as “for the glory of God.” He further indicates that it is also so that He (Jesus) may be glorified. Further, Lazarus’ illness is also for others, that they may come to believe.

And even more stunning than his words are the actions of Jesus, who, hearing of the grave condition of Lazarus, delays his departure to see him for two whole days. His delay means that Lazarus dies! Jesus then says to his disciples that he is “glad for their sakes that he was not there (for Lazarus)!

Now, few of us can failed to be shocked by some or all of this. But our shock is largely based on a premise that this story should be largely about Lazarus and his physical condition. But, it is not, in the first place about Lazarus or about his health. It is about Jesus, it is about God’s glory, and it is about our faith in God.

Jesus’ first concern is not about Lazarus’ physical life, his condition, or about the distress of Mary and Martha who see their brother sick and then die. His first concern is for the faith of all involved and he is willing to allow a crisis to unfold in order to finally strengthen the faith of the many, even if this means the distress of the few.

Your life is not about you. We are each part of a bigger picture, a picture that God sees far better than we. This concept shocks us, I suspect for at least two reasons:

First, we live in an age that strongly emphasizes the dignity, rights and importance of the individual. Of itself this is not bad and is one of the things that distinguishes our age and its concern for human rights. However, the importance and needs of the individual must be balanced against the common good, and the needs of other individuals and groups. It must also be seen in the light of God’s glory, God’s plan and the mysterious interplay of the individual, others and God. God alone knows all this and what is best for all involved, not just me.

Second, we live in an age that strongly emphasizes physical health and comfort, as well as emotional happiness. While these things are truly good, there are greater good. And the greatest good is our spiritual well being, our faith and holiness. God is far more concerned with our eternal destiny that our present comfort. Jesus says for example, it is better to cut off a hand, a foot or pluck out our eye than to sin seriously. And while he may be using hyperbole, the teaching remains that it a more serious thing to sin seriously than to loose even very precious parts of our body. We don’t think this way. We tend to value our bodies and physical well-being more than spiritual matters. Not so with God.

Hence we see that Jesus is willing to rank faith and spiritual well-being above physical and emotional comfort. He is also willing to act for the good of many, even if that means some difficulty for the few or the one. This many rankle our “self-esteem culture,” but, to some extent we are a little to “precious” these days, and it is good to be reminded we are not the only one who is important, and that we don’t exist only for our own sake, but also for others and for the glory of God.

Another example of this whole principle is the surprising and “inconclusive” ending of the Acts of the Apostles.

Fully the last two-thirds of Acts is focused on the Evangelical Mission of St. Paul as he made four journeys into Asia Minor and then into Greece. The final chapters of Acts deal with Paul’s arrest, imprisonment and appearance before Roman officials such as Felix and Festus, as well as Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem and Caesarea.

Paul appeals his case to Rome and is sent there on ill fated journey that shipwrecks at Malta. Finally making it to Rome, Paul is imprisoned and awaits the trial that will either vindicate him or seal his fate. The story seems to be building to a climactic conclusion and we, the readers, are ready to see Paul through his final trial. But then something astonishing happens: the story just ends. Here is the concluding line of the Acts of the Apostles:

[Paul] remained for two full years in his lodgings. He received all who came to him, and with complete assurance and without hindrance he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 28:30-31)

But Luke! Don’t just leave us hanging! Did Paul go on trial? We he acquitted as some traditions assert and then made his way to Spain as he wanted? Or did he loose his appeal and suffer beheading right away? What was the outcome? We have seen Paul so far and now the story just ends?!

How can we answer this exasperating and unsatisfying end?

The simplest answer is that the Acts of the Apostles is not about Paul. It is about the going forth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the nations. Luke has, to be sure, personified this going forth of the Gospel to the nations by focusing on Paul. And once Paul reaches Rome and, though under house arrest, is able to freely preach the Gospel there (for there is chaining the Word of God (2 Tim 2:9)), the story reaches its natural conclusion. From Rome the Gospel will go forth to every part of the Empire, for every road led to Rome and away from it. Now that the Gospel has reached the center hub and is being freely preached, it will radiate outward in all directions by the grace of God.

It never WAS about Paul. It was about the Gospel. Paul himself testified to this when he said, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. (Acts 20:24)

We are often focused on personalities and frequently we loose track about what is most important. And, frankly the personality we are most focused on is very often ourselves. Acts never really was about Paul. And your life is not about you. It is about what the Lord is doing for you and through you. We often want things to revolve around us, around what we think, and what we want. But, truth be told, you are not that important, neither am I. We must decrease and the Lord must increase (Jn 3:30).

Here’s the classic song about modern vanity couched in very tricky logic.

24 Responses

  1. Vijaya says:

    Today I really needed to read this. It’s not about me at all; it’s all for the Glory of God!!! Thank you for this wonderful reminder.

  2. TaylorKH says:

    There is an interesting connection here: In a marriage, it is normally never about the husband; it is usually mostly always about the bride. But even as a husband may try to make it all about her – the bride, she ultimately reverses it and makes it all about him – the husband….but only on the condition that he make it all about her. See how this works? It’s a never-ending, whirl-wind of a romance. :-)

  3. Stephen from New Orleans says:

    With the comment about vanity, you really bust my bubble.

    I was just thinking, “I’m glad I’m not named Paul…he lost his head. I’m named after Stephen…who had the face of an angel.”

    Thanks a lot for reminding me that vanity is still a grave sin. (lol)

  4. Steve M says:

    This post took me a different direction. If we step back from our own life and look at an individual and examine their life in terms of all time. How small is the existence of one person in the sense of the whole? If it were not for God and his Love then we would all just be short lived chemical accidents with no real purpose. How can anyone face a day of this life without an understanding that there is a God who has an ultimate loving plan that we are part of? Not the center but part of a beautiful whole.

    This life is not about us as individuals but about God. We each have the potential to share in his Goodness, Truth and Beauty even at the moment of our greatest suffering. This fact is the only thing that can move suffering to a sacrifice and take our anguish and give it purpose.

    Thank you Msgr. Pope.

  5. Xavier Abraham says:

    Thank you very much for this wonderful write up. This made my day … for the glory of God. :)

  6. RichardC says:

    I have heard some people claim that Acts ends abruptly because it was written when St. Paul came to Rome and they date Acts that way. According to this theory, St, Luke didn’t tell the final story of St. Paul because it hadn’t happened yet. Also, interestingly, Malta is one of the few nations in Europe with pro-life laws.

  7. John McCarthy says:

    Thank you
    I needed this too.

  8. Dan Buckley says:

    Ah, yes, my life is really directed at Him, yet His life was directed at me, and the enormity of His love for me is profoundly astonishing. Considering my fickleness and faithlessness, that He should have set aside His glory and taken upon Himself my nature so that He could suffer and die for me is beyond astonishing; it is incomprehensible. And that humble act of the loving Heart of my God provides abundant reason to devote oneself to giving glory to that “divine Heart that wrought our salvation.” Now if only I could be steadfast…..

  9. Jo the Housewife says:

    I see it as waiting for God’s timing and not having a specific expectations, but TRUSTING that what he does (no matter how badly we choose) can redeem us–even if we have to suffer greatly–all for our good, and His Glory! When I saw the movie “For Greater Glory” I was sad that an opportunity was missed to discuss the ultimate reward. When the general cried for the boy and asked “Why would God allow this suffering from a young person?” the writers could have had a great opportunity to state that we ALL die–is not a short life lived (and died) for the faith (for Christ) perhaps more valuable than a long life (if wasted as many of us do). To get to Christ is the goal–so short or long life is not important–but how we lived, how we died–is so very important. If you didn’t see it at theatres–get it on dvd when it comes out. Thank you, Msgr. Pope, another good one to make us all thing and ponder.

  10. [...] motivation to get serious about living the faith.  Right now, Msgr. Pope of DC has an excellent butt-kicking reflection up on his blog, inspired by a meditation on the raising of Lazarus: One of the harder truths of life is that our [...]

    • Bill Robberson says:

      How did this post and one other like it get through? Please stop posting this sort of thing to Msgr.Popes blog.

      Spiritual encouragement, in the form of a swift kick to the… « Re:Incarnation says:
      June 22, 2012 at 1:56 pm

  11. Bill Robberson says:

    Thanks Msgr. really good stuff! I know you know this but while life is not about us in the self-centered sense. Life is about us in the sense that He USES us to “preach the gospel” etc. So, while I don’t particularly like relating myself to a “tool”-in His hands–that’s precisely what I am. As His “tool” my life has purpose. And, my life has meaning therefore in that sense only, it is about me. Jesus used Lazarus as His “tool” so to me in many ways, it was about him. BTW-since He created everything He can use anything tp further His will. Even crickets or a mustard seed.

  12. [...] his Kingdom. Further, we also exist, not only for our own sake but also for the sake of others. Your life is not about you… __________________ Your socks stink. To view links or images in signatures your post count [...]

  13. Dismas says:

    Who could be a better example of my life not being about me than Lazarus. I still struggle a little with the idea that God made Lazarus come back. Not only did he have to come back and deal with the wierd celebrity of being raised from the dead but he had to live through Jesus Passion as well.

  14. Teri says:

    I especially appreciate the part where Jesus knowingly allowed His closest friends to suffer for God’s greater glory. This couldn’t have been easy for Jesus either. But He knew it was necessary.
    And this next comment is all about me… you used the word ‘loose’ instead of the correct ‘lose’ above. It’s nails on the chalkboard but I’ve decided to offer it up.

  15. Das Erlebnis says:

    What a fantastic writing!!!! There I was reading/following the narrative of Paul and the author had me seeking out explanations for Luke’s ending before I read the conclusion. And then there it was – the beautiful, magnificent slap, oops-up-side-the-head. The story was not about Paul, it was about the going forth. It was about the Gospel. I know, I’m just repating his story now. It’s whatever, I’m still impressed. You’re very clever this time ;)

  16. dieter says:

    Father, you raised me to see the big picture. Thanks!

  17. Diane says:

    God is good! Teacher, Lord, and Friend – let us praise Him forever!

  18. Jim J. McCrea says:

    One mystical theologian said that we are merely a scrap of the cosmos.

    Each one of us is only one of 100 billion people who have ever lived.

  19. TeaPot562 says:

    We do not need to know HOW God can establish lives and conditions of life for each one of us (See Acts 17:26)
    Nor have the cosmologists developed a solution to HOW the point singularity came to be – the universe collected at a single location, very massive and hot (Temperature est. fifty million degrees C, plus or minus) about thirteen billion or so years ago. (I like the solution in Gen. 1)
    The remarkable thing is that God does know and love each one of us. This includes those whose lives ended on 9-11-2001 at the Twin Towers, those who died at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the millions who died in the prison camps of 20th Century dictators.
    Thank You, Lord, for caring. Thank You for the blessings of life, love and community. May I be what You want of me in interacting with others around me, in my life whether long or short. May I reflect Your love to others.
    TeaPot562

  20. Marie in Clawson Michigan says:

    Amen! I’ve been humbly waiting on His next purpose.

  21. Julie says:

    And we wonder why we (I) have to suffer. God uses it all.

  22. Patrick says:

    I’m skeptical of thinking of ourselves merely as God’s “tools.” We are persons and God cares and relates to us as such. Personalistic thinking, while it may in its distortions tend towards personality cultism and hyper-individuality, is sound thinking – JPII was a personalist, among other prominent Catholic thinkers. Our lives are not about us, true, but we are merely more than cogs in God’s scheme. This de-personalized thinking is dangerous, I think. It can perhaps burst the bubbles of some egoists, but it can also lead others struggling to believe in God’s love for them to undervalue their own self-worth and importance.

    God made His life about us, just like we’re called to make ours about Him. We need both sides of the story, not just one.

  23. Kevin Aldrich says:

    “Neither are we the most important thing or person in the world. Rather we exist in and for the glory of God ….”

    This seems to contain a misreading of the Catechism: “St. Bonaventure explains that God created all things “not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it,” for God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness …” (CCC 293).

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