This Sunday’s Mass readings reminded me of Shark Tank. For the uninitiated, this is a reality show on which aspiring entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of investors. If one or more of the sharks bite, it can change lives. If you’ve seen the show, you know the Sharks sit God-like in front of each CEO wanna-be, acting as gate-keepers to a prosperous future. Most of the “Wantrepreneurs” give these judges gifts letting them sample the fruits of their businesses. But if the Sharks sense a business is ill-conceived, they’re not shy about rejecting its conception.
The scriptural connection? The Prophet Isaiah offers a few examples of what can happen when prosperity’s aspirants leave offerings at God’s altar in hopes of ensuring passage into Paradise. Sometimes, as in Shark Tank, they over-value their offering and the offending egomaniac must be put back in his or her place—as in this Godly rejection (Is 1:10-17):
I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; In the blood of calves, lambs and goats I find no pleasure. When you come in to visit me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! Bring no more worthless offerings; your incense is loathsome to me. … When you spread out your hands, I close my eyes to you; Though you pray the more, I will not listen.
Isaiah depicts a God who hates the hypocrisy behind our pretenses. How can a Supreme Being buy into someone who invests blessings poorly, judges fellow aspirants harshly, and harbors delusions of worthiness? Nevertheless, as in Shark Tank, if you’re seen as redeemable, you can get another chance. Isaiah continues:
Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow.
These passages are from the beginning of Isaiah’s book. This Sunday’s first reading is taken from nearer its end (Is 56:1, 6-7), with Isaiah offering God’s advice on acceptability:
All who keep the sabbath free from profanation and hold to my covenant, they I will bring to my holy mountain and make joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on my altar.
Jesus’ entry on humanity’s scene showed God is serious about second chances. God the Son gave his life to prove it. But during his three-year ministry, Christ’s humanity made him susceptible to surprises about the human condition. One of those surprises was that the same Holy Spirit that would later transfigure him for the benefit of his disciples could also drive the unworthy among us to seek value worth Jesus’ investment. Consider the case of the Canaanite woman in Sunday’s gospel reading who hoped Jesus would deliver her daughter from the evil possessing her (Mt 15:21-28). He was laser-focused on the salvation of Israel, but could the passion of this “alien’s” presentation have reminded Jesus-the-man that the Holy Spirit who informed Christ-the-Savior knows no nationality?
The woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, “Lord, help me.” He said in reply, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.
Shark Tank judges can similarly misjudge people not fashioned from classic CEO material—even children. In one episode a little girl pitching a lemonade business that grew out of her early nasty experience with bees was almost given the equivalent of a pat on the head and a shove out the back door. Instead, she made an eloquent case for her vision of a business that would both provide a healthier alternative to sugary drinks and feed a charitable funding stream. The kid’s persistence sold them on her own unconventional yet high value—never mind the lemonade. The Sharks often compete with each other over such rare finds—or even try making such applicants jealous of fellow contestants, saying something like “There are dozens of other candidates who’ll make millions with me if you miss this chance.”
In Sunday’s second reading from his letter to the Romans (ROM 13-15, 29-32), Paul uses jealousy in a similar way—trying to trigger it among the Jews (the children Jesus references) by bringing the Gentiles into the same sweet deal designed for the “Chosen People.”
Brothers and sisters: I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I glory in my ministry in order to make my race jealous and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? For the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable.
The point is that God implants gifts in each of us to inspire all of us. The same principle makes Shark Tank more than just another reality show. Its value is tied to the reality that success inspires success. Periodically the show offers updates on shark-blessed businesses. This is probably the most valuable aspect of the show. These success stories inspire other aspirants to put their gifts to work so they can continue this chain of success.
Jesus forged such an inspiration chain during his ministry and bequeathed it to his disciples at their last supper together. His going-away speech (JN 14:12-14) made the keys to his business model accessible to everyone:
Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these, because I am going to the Father. And whatever you ask in my name, I will do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. … And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know it, because it remains with you, and will be in you.
Truth is the key to making the sacrifice of our lives acceptable to God and inspirational to any soul hoping to get out of this tank whole.