2 Cor 9:6-11; Gal 2:16-20; Mark 8:34-9:1
“He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.”
This principle applies to the whole of our lives. The time and resources of this life – this worldly life – is the capital given to us by God which we have to invest in the working out of our salvation. The more of our capital that we invest, the greater our spiritual profit in eternity. Every choice we make then in this world has spiritual implications because we either choose to follow God or we choose to follow our own self interest – all of our choices end up being one or the other.
There are many parables of our Lord like this in the Gospel. The parable of the talents wherein the master entrusts a sum of money to each of his servants and then departs on a journey. Those who used that money – those who invested bountifully – were rewarded in accord with what they had done while the servant who did nothing with what he had been given was punished. Another parable that speaks to this is that of the ten virgins awaiting the coming of the bridegroom. Those who had invested the purchase of extra oil had enough to last until the coming of the bridegroom and entered into the wedding feast with him. Those who invested only a little ran short and while they were out obtaining more oil, the bridegroom came and they were shut out of the feast. In both cases we see the principle that those who “sow bountifully” also “reap bountifully” and are rewarded by the Master, while those who “sow sparingly” receive little and are excluded from the Kingdom of heaven. This is all to teach us that if we invest all that we are in following Christ – if we invest in eternity – then we will receive an eternal reward and enter into the Kingdom of heaven. If, on the other hand, we invest only in this present life, in satisfying our own desires, then we will be lacking any eternal benefit and will be shut out of the Kingdom.
The question then arises, “What must we do to be saved”, how do we invest in eternity and “sow bountifully” in order that we might enter into the Kingdom of heaven? In the epistle to the Galatians, which we also heard today, the Apostle comments “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” This is the answer to our question – in order to be saved, we must “sow” our entire life and exchange it for the life of Christ. In the Gospel today, we heard the words of Christ, “whosoever will save his life shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake … the same shall save it.” Again we hear the answer to the question – if we invest the whole of our life, that is if we give it up, for the sake of Christ then we shall save it. However, if we try to keep our life, that is if we live it only to satisfy our own needs and desires, then we shall lose it. Our Lord then asks, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” This question is for us – what shall we give in exchange for our soul?
All that we are, all the we have, is given to us by Christ in order that we might use it to work out our salvation. We come into this world with nothing and we will leave this world only with the gain that we have acquired in this life. If we use what we have been given to gain only worldly things – possessions, prestige, acclaim, and so on – then when we leave this world, all that will be left behind and we will have nothing when we stand before the judgement seat of God. On the other hand, if we use what we have been given to acquire heavenly riches – the grace of God, the virtues, the fruit of the Spirit and so on – then when we leave this world those riches await us and we will hear the voice of our Master saying, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
Even though this question applies not only to material goods, but to our whole lives, in the world in which we live, a symbol of our possessions, of our gains and our wealth, has been established and that is money. Thus what we do with the money that we have is a powerful symbol of what we do with the entirety of our lives. For this reason the Apostle Paul goes back to that symbol in speaking of how we “sow” and gives a lesson in Christian giving. He says that each person should give “according to his purpose … not grudgingly or of necessity, for God loves a cheerful giver.” If our purpose is to acquire the kingdom of heaven then that purpose governs how we choose to use our money and possessions. St Seraphim of Sarov taught his spiritual son, “The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit… God the Word, the God/man our Lord Jesus Christ, compares our life with a market and the work of our life on earth He calls trading, and says to us all, ‘trade till I come (Lk 19:13), redeeming the time, because the days are evil (Eph 5:16)’ That is to say, make the most of your time for getting heavenly blessings through earthly goods.” He continues, “When I was not yet in the monastery, we (my family) used to trade with goods which brought us the greatest profit. Act like that, my son. Just as in business the main point is not merely to trade, but to get as much profit as possible, so in the business of the Christian life the main point is not merely to pray or to do some other good deed. …the purpose of the Christian life, is in deriving (from our actions) the utmost profit, that is in acquiring the most abundant gifts of the Holy Spirit.” As the saint instructs, we should be like spiritual merchants, always looking for the means by which we can “spend” or “sow” or “invest” our worldly goods in order to obtain in return the most abundant return of the grace of God.
This means that we must divide up our worldly possessions and use them wisely. Some must be used simply to maintain our life in this world; some must be used to meet our obligations to others (to our family and children for example); and some must be used to acquire spiritual gain. How do we make that decision? The most ancient practice according to the law of God has been to tithe – that is to give 10% of your goods to the support of the temple and another 10% given in charitable alms. But this is a minimum – this is sowing “sparingly” that is only giving just enough to meet the minimum requirements. Our Lord said to the rich young ruler, “go and sell all that you give, give it to the poor and come and follow me.” If we look at the lives of the saints we see how this commandment is worked out in real life. There are many saints who, upon hearing the call of Christ to “follow me” did indeed take all that they had in this life and making provisions for the care of their families and other responsibilities, gave the rest to the poor and leaving the worldly life, entered the monastic life and cast themselves entirely upon the mercy and provision of God. Others, remaining in the world, made a division of their funds, dedicating a third to the needs of themselves and their families, a third to the upkeep and support of the Church and a third to the giving of alms. St Philaret the Merciful, proposed to his family that they “buy him out” that is purchase from him his “share” of the family property and with the money that he received from them, he dedicated it all to give to the poor, saving nothing else for himself. The common theme here among the saints is that they would “sow sparingly” in regards to the world, setting aside only the minimum that was needed for their own needs and that of their household. The rest of their “wealth” was used to “sow bountifully” in obtaining the Kingdom of God.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, begin to look at your lives and to ask yourself how it is that you can “sow bountifully” in eternity. Begin by dividing your possessions – reserving what is necessary to meet the needs of yourself and your family while proposing to use the rest to support the Church and to give alms. Be generous with what God has given you in this world in order that you might receive from Him a generous share of His grace which will go with you into the Kingdom of Heaven. Don’t stop at your possessions, however, but give also of your time, your energy, your skills, your interests – give your whole self to God so that you can say with the apostle, that you have crucified yourself and that it is no longer you who live, but Christ who lives in you. Your possessions are only the symbol of this total giving of yourself to Christ. Sow bountifully – give as much as you can to Christ and His Church – that you might also reap bountifully and receive the rich gifts of the Holy Spirit and enter into the Kingdom of heaven.