106. Giving More and Getting More (Mark 4:21-34)
“… Love him and let your whole aim and intention be directed to pleasing him always. Have no fear, for even if all the saints and every creature abandon you, he will always be ready to help you in your needs.” - St. Cajetan
Mark 4:21-34: He also said to them, ‘Would you bring in a lamp to put it under a tub or under the bed? Surely you will put it on the lamp-stand? For there is nothing hidden but it must be disclosed, nothing kept secret except to be brought to light. If anyone has ears to hear, let him listen to this.’ He also said to them, ‘Take notice of what you are hearing. The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given – and more besides; for the man who has will be given more; from the man who has not, even what he has will be taken away.’ He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man throws seed on the land. Night and day, while he sleeps, when he is awake, the seed is sprouting and growing; how, he does not know. Of its own accord the land produces first the shoot, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the crop is ready, he loses no time: he starts to reap because the harvest has come.’ He also said, ‘What can we say the kingdom of God is like? What parable can we find for it? It is like a mustard seed which at the time of its sowing in the soil is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet once it is sown it grows into the biggest shrub of them all and puts out big branches so that the birds of the air can shelter in its shade.’ Using many parables like these, he spoke the word to them, so far as they were capable of understanding it. He would not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything to his disciples when they were alone.
Christ the Lord Christ’s favorite topic, it could be argued, was “the Kingdom of God.” His first public sermon began with “The Kingdom of God is at hand,” and from then on he kept talking about it. If there is a Kingdom, there must also be a King, and if there is a King, there must be subjects. Such is the image that Jesus chose to describe the community of his disciples, the Church. We would do well to ask ourselves if we share that vision of the Church. When we pray, “Thy Kingdom come,” is what we mean in tune with what Christ means? God’s Kingdom is the realm where hearts obey him; the kingdom of this world is the realm where hearts serve themselves; if we want to conquer the latter and spread the former, we need only hearken to the King, so that we can carry out his commands.
Obeying someone else, though, is almost always a challenge. Jesus knows this. And so he motivates his listeners to trust in him. He promises that if we are generous with him (the amount we measure out), he will be generous with us. Then he assures us that even if we trust him just a little bit, if we exercise our faith in him even a small amount, it will give his grace enough room to make those virtues grow, “for the man who has will be given more.”
Being generous with this Lord yields very different results than any other brand of generosity. The more we seek and fulfill his will in our lives – following the voice of our conscience, the teachings of the Church, and the example of Christ and his saints – the more abundant and fruitful will our experience of life become. And that makes perfect sense, considering that God was the one who invented human life in the first place.
Christ the Teacher The growing parables reveal three essential characteristics about living in communion with Christ. First, the life of our relationship with him comes not from ourselves, but from God. The power of growth in the “seeds” does not come from the farmer; it comes from the Creator. Likewise, if God were not constantly breathing his grace into our lives, no matter how hard we might try, we would never be able to grow in intimacy with him – just as the farmer could never make a rock grow into an ear of corn. Our life of union with God depends primarily on God; we cannot achieve Christian success based solely on our own efforts – but the good news is that we don’t have to, since God is always at work, even while we’re asleep.
Second, growth in holiness (life in communion with God) is a gradual process. Unlike Hollywood heroes, who become world champions in the course of a two-hour movie, Christians develop their incomparable wisdom, joy, and virtue through a patient and consistent effort to cooperate with God for the long haul. This is why discouragement is such an effective assassin of saints – if our prayer life doesn’t produce spiritual fireworks right away, if our bad habits don’t go away with a snap of our fingers, if we don’t understand all of Catholic doctrine after a weekend seminar, we tend to slack off in our efforts. That is the effect of a culture built on the shaky foundations of immediate gratification. We need to learn that when it comes to our friendship with God, the full-grown, healthy plant that will attract and nourish those around us is the fruit of constant, patient effort and an unshakable confidence in God – which is exactly what the devil wants to undermine.
Third, spiritual growth takes time. Imagine a farmer or gardener standing out in the filed and yelling down at some recently planted seeds: “Grow faster, you fools! Faster!!” It’s an absurd picture, but a common one: every time we get frustrated at our slow progress, we’re futilely screaming at the seeds to speed up their growth.
Christ the Friend Christ continues to “explain everything in private” to his disciples. In the intimate privacy of prayer, he shines the light of Christian truth on the particular circumstances of our lives. Most especially, he stays present, addressing us intimately and personally in the Gospels and in the Eucharist. There we can always find exactly what our souls need. No matter how often we turn to him, we can always have access to his advice, his comfort, and his guidance. Christianity is the most person-to-person of religions; it is God addressing each one of us personally through his Son, which is why the Church tirelessly encourages all of her children to make personal prayer an essential ingredient in their lives. Without spending time alone with God, we rob him of the chance to “explain everything in private” that he is constantly looking forward to.
Christ in My Life Teach me to pray, Lord. I want to learn to recognize your voice speaking in my heart and mind. I want to live in your presence so that you can make my life into what you created it to be, so that my life can be a bright lamp shining in a dark world…
How I need patience, Lord! You are patient, humble, wise. Stay close to me. Hold me back. Let me know when I’m being ridiculous. You know that I want my life to bear fruit for your Kingdom, and I want to taste the fruit of your Kingdom in my own soul. So teach me, Lord; in your kindness, show me how to cultivate the grace you have planted in my soul…
I want to spend my days sowing the seeds of your Kingdom everywhere I go. I believe in you, and I believe that only you can satisfy the human heart. The happiness we all seek can only be found in friendship with you. Fill me with that happiness, Lord, so much that it overflows into the lives of those around me. Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart more like yours…
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