God always seems to ask us for more than we gambled on, or expected. And this is, in a word – everything. He wants it all. This is because…well, for one, he made us, so that makes sense. But all so and more importantly, because he knows he is worth it. Here I am merely quoting a line coined by a very fine Dominican preacher who I heard give a conference about fifteen years ago. God knows he is worth it, and this is why he seems so demanding. He loves us too much to settle for us having a divided heart.
Two famous examples in Sacred Scripture present us with heroic women who gave their all even from their poverty. The first is recounted in 1 Kings, the widow of Zarepath. The prophet Elijah comes across her foraging to cobble together a final meal for her and her son in the midst of famine in the land. The prophet makes a demand that seems absolutely unreasonable: “Please bring me a small cupful of water…” At least he said “please.” “Please bring along some bread” – and now things get most unreasonable, because after she tells Elijah that she has no more flour or oil for after this last meal, the prophet does not relent – “…first bring me some bread…” Granted, he added the promise of the Lord, but the widow had nothing else to go on but trust in Elijah’s word. Yet she did as she was asked – and a yearlong miracle followed her leap of faith: she and her son had enough to eat from that little bit of flour and oil for one year.
Another example comes from the New Testament, from the beginning of chapter 21 of St. Luke’s gospel. In a sense, this woman is even more impressive. She had not been asked to do anything, yet she put her whole livelihood in that tiny donation into the Temple treasury, and she earned highest praise from Christ. This praise has resounded down the millennia each time the Gospel passage is read at Mass. With reckless abandon, she gave everything she had, the “widow’s mite,” and her heart must have been something to behold, Christ could read it, and He lauded her in a singular way.
God will ask us for things too, and in amounts and ways that will seem demanding and unreasonable. He might ask us for donations, even sacrificial ones, but He may also ask for other things we think we can ill afford: kindness to those who irk us; perseverance when we feel at the end of our rope; time spent listening to others when we feel pressured and in a rush; these and other things too numerous to mention. Yet we know these things merely open our hearts to receive his grace. We do not save ourselves, we are not Pelagians, but receive our salvation from His merciful hand, and even the cooperation with His demands is in itself a grace.
Yet it is precisely this cost, the giving of our “everything,” that will enable us to receive the Everything the Lord Jesus gave for us in His Incarnation. And when we have accomplished this, through God’s mercy, we will realize that we have received so much more than we gave.
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The Napa Institute and the St. Paul Center are partnering to host the 2019 West Coast Priest Conference: A Priest Forever on the theme of Christ and the New Testament Priesthood. Join Drs. Scott Hahn and John Bergsma for four days of engaging talks, fellowship with your brother priests, and spiritual renewal.
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