Monday: 1 August, 2012 –– 17th Week in Ordinary Time / Feast Day of St Alphonsus Liguori
Jeremiah 15:10, 16–21 / Matthew 13:44–46
Throughout Scripture we find that God asks us to give him “all.” If we believe God –– that his his revelation to us is true –– it is right for us to give all we are and have. We belong to him twice over: First, he is our Creator; he made us. Second, he is our Redeemer; he bought us with the blood of Jesus.
In the Old Testament God is teaching his people what it means to give him first place –– to give him all we are. It is hard for us to know how to give God everything; it’s a rather abstract concept. It is easy to say we are giving God “all” while in practice we actually give him little or nothing. To help his people grapple with this, God gave the Law. So, for example, in order to teach his people to give him first place, he gave the law of the tithe –– giving to God a tangible ten percent. Ten percent is not much for a person who truly gives everything to God from the heart, but if one’s “faith” is mostly words and outward show, then ten percent is an irritation and a source of grumbling (or an issue of outright disobedience).
Jeremiah is a picture of someone who gives God “all” : When I found your words, I devoured them; they became my joy and the happiness of my heart because I bore your name, O Lord, God of hosts... And there was a price to pay: I did not sit celebrating in the circle of merrymakers.... I sat alone.... Jeremiah was rejected and persecuted, as Jesus would be centuries later.
Jesus says that putting the Kingdom first and giving God “all” does not happen without a price. The field with the treasure could only be bought after the finder sells all that he has. The merchant could only buy the pearl of great price after he sells all that he has.
How do we know if we are giving God “all”? One Christian writer who had a great impact early in my spiritual formation said two things which apply to this theme: First, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” You might have to think about that one a bit, but he is restating Jesus’ warning about trying to gain the whole world and yet losing one’s soul. There is a reason for us to give God “all”. But how do we do that? The second quote is more practical: “One does not surrender in a moment what takes a lifetime to live out.”
St Alphonsus Liguori (b. 1696) was a doctor of both canon and civil law. By all outward appearances he was successful and a good man, but he did not stop with that and rest on his laurels. He became a great preacher and theologian in the Church, founding the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer. Always pursuing a growing love for God, his passion for Jesus became the mark for which he is known.
When I was fifteen years old I realized I had found the ultimate treasure and I totally surrendered my life to Jesus Christ. Out of that came a call to vocational ministry, so over the following decades I sought to give Jesus “all” of me. And while that attitude of heart –– that orientation toward life –– had a specific beginning, it is taking all of my life to make it true. There is a sense in which we are always “selling all we have in this life” in order to obtain what is ultimate and eternal.
This is how I understand what happened in my life five years ago when I turned loose of “all” that I was as a Protestant Evangelical. I stepped out of my vocation and gave up my salary. I accepted the rejection and hurt of people dear to us who did not understand. I had discovered that the pearl of great price which I had found years earlier was far bigger than I initially knew; my pearl of great price needed a larger context. Or, to switch to the first parable’s metaphor, the field needed to be expanded.
At the heart of this is the question for all of us: what does it mean for God to have first place? What does it mean, continuously and always, to give God all? Is there anything you are not willing to give up?