A group of men asked their Maker, “Which one of us is the most spectacular, the most relevant, and the most important?” The Maker put a uncredentialed, unimpressive, feeble child in their midst and said, “Unless you repent, and become like this child, you will never be great.”
The Maker went on to explain to the group of men that in order to become like children, they must sincerely enter the company of the weak. They must interact with the weak not as volunteers stooping to help, but as students eager to learn. They must submit themselves to the fellowship of the frail, a society unable to repay or boost reputation.
Harvard professor and celebrity priest – Henri Nouwen experienced this when he left Harvard to live with a community of mentally handicapped people in Toronto. Henri says, “This was the most important experience of my life, because it forced me to rediscover my true identity. These broken, wounded, and completely unpretentious people forced me to let go of my ‘relevant self’ – the self that can do things, show things, prove things, build things – and forced me to reclaim that unadorned self in which I am completely vulnerable, open to receive and give love regardless of any accomplishments.”
Henri points out that, “We drown ourselves in feeling discouraged, preoccupied with the perception that we have very little impact. We are always busy, but we’re depressed because we see very little change. It seems that our efforts are fruitless, and there is little praise and much criticism. Who can live for long in such a climate without slipping into despair? While efficiency and control are the great aspirations of our society, the loneliness, isolation, lack of friendship and intimacy, broken relationships, boredom, feelings of emptiness and depression, and a deep sense of uselessness fill the hearts of millions of people in our success-oriented world. …But the main question is NOT, ‘How many people take you seriously?’ or ‘How much have you accomplished?’ But: Are you in love with Jesus? This is the question Jesus repetitious puts to Peter in John 21:15-19. The lust to be ‘relevant’ and ‘successful’ must be put to death by pummeling it with Christ’s question to Peter, ‘Do you love Me?’ ‘Do you love Me?’ ‘Do you love Me?’ …Only when we are securely rooted in personal intimacy with the source of life, will it be possible to remain flexible without being relativistic, convinced without being rigid, willing to confront without being offensive, gentle and forgiving without being soft, and true witnesses without being manipulative. Jesus wants Peter to feed His sheep and care for His flock not as a ‘professional’ who creates a ‘controlled and predictable environment for clients and paying customers,’ but as a fellow (vulnerable) brother who knows, and is known by, his siblings; who cares for, and receives care from, others; who forgives and is forgiven, who loves and is loved. It is unavoidably clear that Peter is a sinful, broken, vulnerable man who needs as much care as anyone he cares for. The mystery of ministry is that we have been chosen to make our own limited and very conditional love the gateway for the unlimited and unconditional love of God.”