Good enough - or never failing?

Homily for the 12th Sunday in Ordinary Time

(scriptures for today's liturgy)


Writing about the BP oil disaster in the Gulf,
Kenneth Brill, an engineer, makes the observation that
designing things to “work”
implies expecting and tolerating occasional failures
and that an engineer’s job is to balance performance with cost.

Brill writes:
If the cost of avoiding failure is $100,000
while the probability of failure is once in 20 years
and the consequence of failure is only $10,000,
designing something "good enough"
makes sound engineering and economic sense.
In the last 20 years, however,
the engineer says his clients are asking him to design
beyond “good enough” to "never failing"
because some failures are so critical
they directly impact the bottom line
and the very future of organizations.

Clearly, this engineer believes that BP was satisfied with “good enough”
and that when push came to shove, “good enough” was not good enough.

It’s easy to point fingers at BP and politicians
as the story of this disaster unfolds
but perhaps there’s a lesson in this for all of us -
a lesson that resonates with the scriptures today.

When the engineer distinguishes between those designs and plans
that are “good enough” and those that are “never failing,”
I wonder how that might apply to us.

How often do I design and plan my life as a Christian to be, well,
just “good enough.”

How easily do I convince myself,
“Hey, look: I’m not perfect so why even try to live
a “never failing” Christian life?”

How often do I "pull a BP" on the life God gave me as my work?

How often do I set the bar low, settle for less,
take half-measures and short cuts
and content myself with mediocrity?

How often do I skimp on the materials I need
to build a faith life with a strong foundation?

How often do I "mail it in"
when I really need to show-up-and-be-counted
as one of Christ’s followers?

How often do I falsify the facts and figures
to make things easier for myself
and put a few more bucks in my pocket?

How often do I cheat the legitimate expectations of excellence
others rightly have of me?

“Good enough” or “never failing?”

Perhaps “never failing” sounds too daunting, but consider:

- Engaged couples don’t hope for a “good enough” marriage -
they want a “never fail” union that only death will part.

- Moms and dads don’t set out to be “good enough” parents -
they hope to “never fail” in providing for their children.

- Priests don’t begin their ministry
hoping to be “pretty good” ministers of the gospel:
they begin by promising to be faithful in all things,
to all people, at all times.

- Most of us aren’t content with “good enough” friends -
we seek faithful companions we hope will never let us down.

In our relationships with one another
we don’t hesitate to set the highest standards and work to meet them.

So, what of our relationship with God?

In trying to live according to God’s word and law,
are we content with, “Hey, that’s ‘good enough…’”
or do we aim higher than that kind of complacency?

In engineering and in Christian living, it’s too often the case
that "the critical importance of seeking the 'never failing'
only becomes obvious to us after we’ve suffered a critical failure,"
of our own making, or in the circumstances around us.

When we settle for “good enough” we work our lives on a weak platform
not rigged for rough times and unexpected difficulties.
That platform might not explode like an oil rig off the Gulf coast,
but slowly and surely, the leakage of weakness
can sour and spoil the sweet and life giving waters
of our relationship with God and with one another,
and especially with those we love the most.

In the gospel today Jesus uses the vocabulary of the never failing
calling us to build our faith by denying ourselves,
taking up our cross,
and losing our lives and our self-interest
to save and savor the life he gives us.

Jesus uses strong language to call us far beyond
the ease of “good enough”
to the demands of “never failing”
because the failures we will inevitably meet may be so critical
as to directly impact the bottom line and the very future of our lives.

But when deep faith in Christ is the foundation of our lives,
we need not be afraid even when we fail and fall
because Christ is the One who first fell for us:
from the heavens in his birth and from the Cross in his death.

His love for us is so much more than just “good enough.”
His love never fails to save those who trust in him.

He denied himself so that we might know his love for us.
He carried his Cross to show us how to carry own.
He lost his life for us that we might find our peace in him.

In the sacrifice of this altar, in the sacrament of this table,
he is with us, again:
his never failing love broken for us as bread,
his never failing mercy poured out in the cup we share.

Come and receive the never failing gift of his life.

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