Sunday, September 4, 2011

I'm not much of a fisherman. I enjoy fishing but am unsuccessful most of the time. Success is measured by catching. There is precious little of that. I have all the necessary means at my disposal -- johnboat, oars, fishing rods, scale, knife, hooks, weights and artificial lures of all varieties. I have regular access to a lake that receives an annual stocking of fish. Skill? I know how to cast a line into the water, how to feel if a fish is nibbling at my lure and how to jerk the rod at the appropriate time to snag the creature and pull it into the boat. Competition? Rarely do I see anyone on the lake. As far as I know, I'm the only one who undertakes the mission. The ratio of fishing to catching is quite uneven. If success is measured by catching -- if that's the yardstick, then the verdict -- "I'm not much of a fisherman" -- is difficult to challenge.

The St. Louis Cardinals are not a very successful baseball team this season. They have a winning record but do not have enough wins to make the playoffs. They are not mathematically eliminated from contention but all the signs of eventual failure are there. The crowds at Busch Stadium are down. The resignation in the voice of announcer Mike Shannon is unmistakable. Manager Tony LaRussa is more morose than usual at postgame news conferences. The team is unsuccessful in 2011 so attention has turned to other matters. Albert Pujols' batting average, for example. There is great interest in whether or not the Cards' first baseman will finish the season batting .300 or better. He's done it every season in his career to date. The focus on Albert's statistics is another way to acknowledge the team's overall lack of success.

Interesting, isn't it? A baseball player is considered to have had a bad year if he hits .200, which is to say, is successful at getting a hit one time in five tries. He is considered a success, however, if he hits .300, which is being successful three times in 10 tries. Whether he hits .200 or .300, he is still failing most of the time.

Whether one is successful at something is often arbitrarily decided. A "good" fisherman does not catch a fish every time she casts a line into the water. A "great" baseball team loses many games in a season. A "superstar" ballplayer fails at the plate the majority of the time.

On a success meter, how would you fare? Your answer depends on the criteria upon which you measure yourself. Jesus of Nazareth, on a scale of measurement that would be meaningful to many people today, was unsuccessful in life. He lived a short time; some of us measure success by longevity. He left no descendants; some measure having descendants as a vital metric. He wrote no books; some consider the legacy of publication as important. He was financially insolvent, dependent on the charity of those he met along the way to sustain him and his disciples materially. Personal net worth means a lot to some. He was executed by the state. Do I need to speculate about how most of us feel about people who are put to death?

If Jesus didn't fail, that means success must be measured on different terms than the aforementioned. I'm persuaded Jesus is the most successful person the world has ever known. He saw his mission through to the end -- and that mission saved countless others. Success or failure depends on whose yardstick you're using.

Rev. Dr. Jeff Long is senior pastor of Centenary United Methodist Church in Cape Girardeau.

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