Sharing Your Blessings: The Responsibility of Grace
In our culture of consumption the concept of giving anything away for free often seems unnatural. For to give something away means to lose it. If I give you ten dollars, I am ten dollars poorer. If you give me a bite of your sandwich, that means you've lost that much. To give an hour of your time volunteering at a soup kitchen is to lose one hour of your life that you will never get back. And in our self-centered society, this makes complete sense.
Yet not for the Christian—the faithful disciple of Jesus—for his world has been turned upside-down by Christ and His Gospel. What is true for Him flies in stark contrast to that which the world would hold as true.
“For it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned, in dying that we are born to eternal life.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi
“For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”
“We even boast of our afflictions…”
“I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”
To Give is to Gain
This applies even to this simple idea of giving. For to think of faith, it is received as a free gift. But when we give it away, that is, when we share our faith with others, that is when it grows. In giving it away we gain even more. Think of the classical trio of stewardship: time, talent, and treasure.
If we give our time for someone or some cause, we don’t lose hours off our lifespan, in fact we add to the quality of our life by creating precious moments for ourselves and those with whom we share of our time, which in itself is a gift. To think of the money we earn at work, we use it to provide for and care for our family and hopefully give some of it away to help others who are in need. We lose that money, but it comes and goes and often times bears fruit, is multiplied. The money or attainment of which is never an end in itself, but rather a tool through which we can give and receive blessings. Or when we think of our God-given talents, if I am naturally skilled at playing the piano, yet I never share that gift by playing for other people, than I am selfishly wasting that talent. But when it is shared, given away, then it becomes a gift to others, enriching their lives as well.
The Parable of the Talents teaches us exactly this. A man gives each of his servants some money to manage while he goes off on a trip: five, two, and one talents respectively. The first two servants multiply the money, while the other buries it out of fear of losing it. In the end the first two servants are praised and blessed with more for their good stewardship, while the other is robbed of his money and thrown out into the darkness.
“For to everyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
We each have received the great gift of life, of grace, of sonship, of faith. And each of these gifts comes with great responsibility. They are meant to be shared. When they are not used in a way that fulfills this purpose they begin to lose their nature as blessings. Faith diminishes, grace wanes, life fades. It is only in giving these things away that they grow and bear fruit both for us and for those who we share them with.
It’s counter-cultural as the Gospel tends to be. That’s the beauty of it.
Every Gift Comes with Responsibility
Since the moment of Creation, all that we have received from God, our very lives included, is grace, free, unmerited gift. We are not worthy of any of it. We have done nothing to earn it. It is all God’s grace. Yet, as we have seen, with each of these gifts comes great responsibility.
“The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.”
Even Adam and Eve who walked “about in the garden” with the Lord (Gn 3:8) had the responsibility of cultivating and caring for the garden. It wasn’t just a paradise for them to lounge around in. The gift was the garden, but the responsibility was to care for it.
Just as a child begs and pleads for a puppy, as parents we know that along with that puppy comes the responsibility of feeding it, walking it, bathing it, and picking up after it. The kids don’t realize all this, they just want the puppy because it’s cute.
All of humanity has received the gift of free will which brings with it the responsibility to make good decisions. We are given the freedom to choose to love, for true love can never be forced. So the greatest commandment is only that, a commandment. But the decision to love God and our neighbor has to be one that we make of our own will.
The same is true with the great gift of faith. Yes, faith is a gift.
“No one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.”
In baptism we enter the “door of faith” and become not only followers, but sons and daughters of God. And with the gift of faith comes the responsibility to live it—to nurture that relationship and grow in it, and in so doing to share it with others. That is why for the Christian every relationship is an opportunity to lead someone into that same relationship with God. This is the responsibility of discipleship: to be a follower of Christ who leads others into that same relationship, to be disciples who make disciples. For that is the mission Jesus has given to each of us, to “make disciples of all nations” (Mt 28:19).
When we begin to see each blessing as a gift that comes with responsibility, our outlook on the world is changed. As Christians we live in gratitude for everything we’ve been given and give our very lives to share with the world each and every one of those gifts.