The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind. – Luke 4:18
I was awakened by the flashing lights of a police car parked in front of our house. It was 2:00 in the morning. From my bed I could hear two policemen at the front door talking about the police chase of a 1953 Cadillac that had been forced off the road while hauling illegal moonshine. The driver had escaped. The car was registered in Dad’s name.
Everyone had their own idea of success. For Dad it could easily be measured – it was owning a Cadillac. In my childhood of the ‘50s, Jaguars were unheard of and Mercedes were only for movie stars and drug dealers. Any legitimate big shot would drive nothing but the best – a Cadillac. So Dad dreamed of owning a Cadillac.
Finally, after saving, borrowing, and “making a good deal,” he adopted a “like new” 1953 Caddy. It was solid white, very shiny, and had lots of chrome. It had electric windows and bright red leather seats. The front seat was also electric and could be raised so high and moved so close to the steering wheel that even Mom, at 4 feet 11 inches short, could drive without a pillow. Of course, she did still drive looking through the steering wheel. Boy, was it a beautiful car. The few times that we rode in it I remember hearing Dad say, “You can just feel the class in this car.” Unfortunately we didn’t get to “feel the class” often, as there were “a lot of bugs to get worked out of any used car.”
It seemed that no repair could keep Dad’s Cadillac on the road for more than two days in a row, and each new shop visit returned the verdict of another $100 bill to be paid. Dad doggedly supported his Caddy through months of the finest car care with all the best dealer mechanics and “shade tree” mechanics in town. Finally, after a continual barrage of expensive efforts to keep his Caddy on the road, he reluctantly accepted the awareness that his Cadillac dream had turned into a nightmare. It had to go. The final straw had been a malfunction in the electric system. The previously impressive electric windows no longer worked at the push of a button, but at every dip in the road, pot hole, or railroad crossing they would all four go up or down at will, their will. This they did with great consistency except when it rained. Then they invariably went down and stayed down.
Finally, following six months of payments plus financial support for every mechanic and shop in the neighborhood, Dad reluctantly, sorrowfully, sold his dream. The deal was conducted through a newspaper ad with Dad signing the title on a Sunday afternoon. The buyer was to take the papers to a friend the next day that would serve as a notary and legalize the sale. Dad’s dream Cadillac was gone.
So here were the police with flashing lights, two months later, knocking at our door at 2:00 in the morning. They were “inquiring as to the owner of a white 1953 Cadillac.” The driver, forced off the road, has escaped on foot. The Cadillac with its trunk containing a moonshine tank was confiscated. The car was still registered in Dad’s name. This was the final insult to his image of success.
Some dreams die-hard. Some “ideals” are better images of success than measures of success. As the son of the owner of a Cadillac dream car, I have never longed to inherit Dad’s measure of success. I have adopted instead a yardstick I find in the fourth chapter of Luke. I understand the temptations of Jesus to be those of pleasure (bread), power (control), and prestige (impressing others). The choice taken by Jesus is to share God’s love. I take this choice too. And although I know that sharing God’s love may also have its setbacks, the success is far more deeply felt than shiny chrome and red leather seats.
Prayer: Lead me to know, O Lord, that real success is only possible when I live my life as a response to your love. Amen.