My father had an expression: “Charlie, people disappoint.” It was his way of saying that even people we think irreproachable, godly, and saintly can let us down, either with sin or simply by being unable to help us in key moments. Something of that comes through in the words of St. Paul from today’s first reading:
Demas, enamored of the present world, deserted me and went to Thessalonica, Crescens to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. Luke is the only one with me. … At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them! (2 Timothy 4:10-16)
Here were people that St. Paul had thought friends and champions of the gospel, but now some have left him, some have failed to defend him, and still others are just unavailable.
We should all think about how much faith we put in human persons. While we sometimes need to depend on others to help us, there will be times when they cannot do so and times when not only do they not help us, they are against us; perhaps they are too frightened to stand with us or maybe they are just occupied with other things. Yes, people disappoint.
Paul goes on to say,
But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength, so that through me the proclamation might be completed, and all the Gentiles might hear it (2 Timothy 4:17).
This passage reminds us that though we should work with our fellow human beings, we should trust in God. For indeed, He wills us to work with imperfect, limited, and even fickle people, but to trust that He can supply our needs when others fall short; He can stand in the gap when others do not, for whatever reason.
Scripture says, Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the LORD (Jer 17:5).
The fact that human beings are imperfect and can disappoint us should not turn us into isolated cynics. Rather, it should remind us to depend ultimately on the Lord’s strength and permit Him to fill the gaps left by others. We should work to develop good relationships with our fellow human beings because in many situations they can help, but they can never be our ultimate savior.
Yes, God can work to bless us, even through people who disappoint or fall short. No matter the struggles of human agents, with God as a partner we can succeed. All things work together for good, to those who trust in God and are called according to his purpose (Rom 8:23).
St Paul did not stop preaching because others let him down; neither should we stop working for the Kingdom merely because others disappoint.