RELIGION: The parables do not propose that we must be perfect

Canon Gerry Conroy

It is easy to become despondent about the lack of goodness everywhere. It is seductive to look and see only the negative side of the world or the church and to overlook all the good that there is. We tend to think the worst when we are waiting for the results of medical tests and it is the same in life: it is the worst that seems to take up our attention, whether it is the items on the news or the gossip we entertain. Too quickly we end up looking at a half empty glass. The temptation then is to give up or to demand perfection; that it seems to me is the way to despair, or at least to unhappiness in life, the way to that feeling that life is never good enough, never sunny enough, never truly satisfying. 

The parables we hear in the Gospel today seem quite diverse at first, but there is one thing that they all have in common and that is a happy ending; or at least happy for those who are part of the kingdom of God. They all speak of the incompleteness of the present, of the natural imperfection of the present because the present is about growth, it is not about perfection gained, the parables do not propose that we must be perfect already – that is something we are still striving for. We might say the message is ‘don’t focus on your imperfections – don’t ignore them either’ – don’t forget what God’s grace is working in you. Don’t expect the worst, look to the hope you have. Don’t look at the badness around you, look to the grace of God active around you and if you can’t see it somewhere, then try and take it there yourself. 

It’s the same in our prayer St Paul said, ‘The spirit helps us in our weakness’ – so often we are dissatisfied with our prayer because it is not perfect, it is not what we want; well it never will be! What is important is that we keep praying in our imperfect way and because we know the Spirit is praying with us we pray imperfectly but with a peace that comes from knowing God is with us and we know the end of our journey he will take us to. 

Trust is important in life and especially in faith. Without it we would lose heart at the imperfections in ourselves and in others; we would lose hope in life. Trust points us to God, it reminds us that the Holy Spirit is active in our world and despite all evidence to the contrary, Christ has already defeated sin and death. So, we live with a confident hope in life, even in the darkest moments of life. But we need to remember that we are constantly assailed by imperfections and sin, by evil, all with the express intention of making us lose hope, of leading us to a despondency that kills our trust in God. We must be on our guard to protect our hope and strengthen our trust in God. 

The first reading reminds us that God’s power is in his compassion and mercy. Although not included in the second reading, in his letter, St Paul goes on to remind us that our power is in our weakness, not as we might wish in our perfection, or in our strengths; our power is in knowing that God isn’t fixated on us being perfect, that is why he reveals himself in terms of his mercy and compassion. He is fixated on saving us – sometimes saving us from ourselves.

Canon Conroy is parish priest of St Patrick’s and St Peter’s in Dumbarton

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