Christian Optimism

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January 31, 2016 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

January 31, 2016
Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
Fr. George Smiga

Two friends went out for a walk. One was an optimist, the other a pessimist. The pessimist spoke first, “Another cloudy day in Cleveland. I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun. Why do we live in such a gloomy place?” The optimist responded, “Too much sun is not a good thing. Do you know that we have one of the lowest rates of skin cancer in the country? In this sense, we are very lucky to be living here.” Then the two friends started climbing a hill. “This hill is steeper than I remember it,” said the pessimist, “I thought we were going for a walk, not a hike. By the time I get to the top I’ll be covered with perspiration.” “Exercise is good,” said the optimist, “Trust me, by the time we get home and take a shower, you’ll feel great and be very thankful we had this climb.” Just then a huge flock of birds flew over the friends, and deposited their droppings on the both of them. “This is disgusting,” said the pessimist pulling the bird droppings out of his hair. And then he saw that his friend was smiling. “Okay,” he said, “I’m ready. Tell me why you’re smiling because we are covered in bird droppings.” “I’m smiling,” said the optimist, “because I’m thankful. I am thankful that God did not make buffalos fly.”

Every day, perhaps more than once a day, we face some kind of disappointment or failure. When that happens we have a choice of focusing on what is wrong or looking for what is good. Some people would say that looking for the good is an illusion or a trick to make us feel better. But finding what is good in our lives is a creative process. In almost every situation there is mixture of both good and bad. It is up to us to decide which of these two aspects are we going to claim as our own.

Jesus chooses the optimistic option in today’s gospel. He comes to his own town, to the people who know him and love him the most, and he preaches to them the gospel. It is a disaster. Not only do they reject him. They try to kill him. This is why the most important line in today’s gospel is the last line, “Then Jesus passed through their midst and continued on his way.” The rejection that Jesus experienced at Nazareth could have stopped him. He could have said to himself, “If this is the way my very family responds to my message, then certainly I’ll never be successful in proclaiming the Kingdom of God.” But Jesus did not focus on the rejection. He focused on what was good and then continued on his way, continued in his mission. The text does not tell us what the good thing was upon which Jesus focused, but it does not have to. We know that Jesus was always in touch with the goodness that came from his relationship to his Father. We too are in relationship with God as our father. Therefore, we can and should develop a Christian optimism, an optimism that is rooted in the love that God has for us.

When we mess things up at work or at school, Christian optimism does not pretend that there is nothing wrong. But it reminds us that God knows our intentions and our weakness, and God will help us learn from our mistakes. When someone we love is in trouble and we do not seem to be able to help, Christian optimism does not deny that there is a problem. But it reminds us that God loves the people in our lives as much as we do and will not abandon them. When we look at what is wrong in our world, Christian optimism does not try to pretend that working for peace or justice will be easy. But it tells us that God is committed to peace and justice and will work with us and through us to build the kingdom.

Christian optimism is a lot more than thinking positively. It is believing that the good things that we want for ourselves and others are what God wants as well. And, if God is with us and for us, we can always find something good upon which to focus. We can always find something to give us hope.

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