A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. If one said the TV was too loud, the other claimed the volume needed to be turned up. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist.
Just to see what would happen, on the twins' birthday their father loaded the pessimist's room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist's room he loaded with horse manure.
That night the father passed by the pessimist's room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly. "Why are you crying?" the father asked. "Because my friends will be jealous, I'll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I'll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken," answered the pessimist twin.
Passing the optimist twin's room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure. "What are you so happy about?" he asked. To which his optimist twin replied, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"
Are you an optimist or a pessimist? Perhaps it depends on the circumstances. Our Lord Jesus has some guidance for us. In today’s Gospel we’re back in Holy Week, on Maundy Thursday. The passage we just heard is from Jesus’ Farewell discourse. He’s at the Last Supper. He’s washed his disciples’ feet and shared his last meal with them. Judas has left to prepare for his betrayal of Jesus. He’s preparing his disciples for the terrible events that are about to unfold.
There cannot be a more torturous way to die than crucifixion. The Romans had perfected this form of execution to make it as painful as it could be in order to scare off anyone who might be tempted to commit a similar offense. As Jesus is preparing to suffer that most terrible of deaths, he’s giving his disciples a different way of perceiving what’s about to happen. He’s covering them with the words that will help them to understand his death as something ultimately good, when they would otherwise not be able to see beyond what the Romans wanted them to see. Of course, they would not truly understand until Jesus was raised from the dead.
It’s in that context that Jesus says, “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid; believe in God, believe also in me.” By believe, Jesus isn’t talking about some vague notion that God exists, but putting all of their trust in God’s love for them and that he will provide all that they need to get them through that time of peril, and any time of peril. He’s not saying that evil won’t happen, for it was going to happen; but simply that it will not be victorious, and it certainly will not destroy them.
And, Jesus makes a more astounding claim about himself: “Believe also in me.”---- “Put your trust in me, even though it will look for a while that I have been defeated.”
We Christians need to live with that understanding. No matter what destructive forces are attacking us, we need to cover ourselves with these words: “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid; believe in God, believe also in me.” Are you worried about your health? The economy? The stock market? The 2024 election? Russia’s war against Ukraine? Trouble at home or work? Is that difficult person, who seems to be in your life in order to disrupt it, giving you problems? Have you lost a loved one? These words of our Lord apply in all circumstances. Put your trust in God the Father and in his Son who died for our sins. Cover yourself with that understanding.
The way we Christians look at the world around us should always be through this lens. The Christian by definition cannot be pessimistic. We’ve been let in on the end of the story. God wins! And so to be pessimistic is to cast doubt on the fundamentals of our faith. St. Paul said we must be “transformed by the renewal of our minds,” as in all circumstances we put our trust in God.
I have to confess to you, that isn’t always easy to do, and I can be as negative and fatalistic about things as the worst of pessimists, at times. But when that happens, by God’s grace I usually realize that such a response is not being faithful. In fact, it’s sinful. It’s something I have to confess when it happens. I realize then that I have to do my best to perceive circumstances from the perspective of faith, trusting that God has already won the battle. And you know, when I find myself not looking at things from the perspective of faithfulness, the most helpful thing I can do is recall how faithful Christians that I know, and with whom I associate on a daily basis, would deal with similar circumstances, and that helps to get me back on track. In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve found that this parish is blessed with many people who cover themselves with their trust in God and they’re tremendous models for me and for others. And I’ve found that to be the case in every parish I’ve been associated with.
The German philosopher Nietzsche said, “Christians will have to look more redeemed if people are to believe in their Redeemer.” All I can say in response to that is that I know many who reveal in their lives on a daily basis the presence of Christ. I wish Nietzsche could have known the people of this parish. He wouldn’t have been so pessimistic.
God grant us the grace truly to put our trust in our Redeemer, so that those who see us, those who hear our conversation and witness our deeds, will be brought nearer to him, who alone can save.