Jesus, in his parables, told us that we must take the gift of grace we have been given and use it well, for in doing so, the grace we have will grow; if not, it will not just become stagnate, but it, as it were, atrophy. It will be as if it were taken away from us. This is, in part, the message given to us in the story of the man who gave his servants money to use, with the intention that they would make something out of what they had been given:
For it will be as when a man going on a journey called his servants and entrusted to them his property; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away (Matt. 25:14-15 RSV).
The servant with the five talents took the money and doubled it; the same happened with the servant given two talents. The one who was given only one did nothing with it; he just hid it in the ground. Their master was hoping that his servants would find a way to increase what they had been given, and this is what the first two servants did. They were rewarded with his praise and honor for what they had done. The one who did nothing not only was told he was wrong in neglecting his responsibility, he had his money taken away from him and given to the one who has originally been given five talents. The point of the story is not that money is important, and we should do what we can to increase it ourselves, but rather, to make sure we realize that the gift of grace we have been given is something which we are expected to work with so that it can grow, a point which can be had from what the master in the story said: “For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away” (Matt. 25:29 RSV).
God is looking to take grace away from us, but rather, Jesus was warning us that what we have been given is meant to be put to good use, not just hid away, thinking it is enough that we have been given something, and that we need do nothing with what we have been given. This is why quietism, which suggests we find a way to do less and less in the world until we are doing nothing ourselves, has to be rejected, for it has us ignore the fact that God wants us to act, and to do so by cooperating with the grace which has been given to us; the more we engage it, the more it will grow, and then help us and those who are around us, as the more we open ourselves to grace in this manner, the greater we can and shall become.
Paul also wanted us to understand this. While he constantly explained that salvation is through grace, so that we realize it is not something we achieve all by ourselves, he also pointed out that we must act with the grace given to us, warning us that if we don’t, we risk losing everything. “Working together with him, then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain” (2 Cor. 6:1 RSV). We would have accepted it in vain if we thought that being forgiven, and receiving grace in that forgiveness, means we can ignore what God wants out of us, that is love and the actions which follow such love, the dictates of love which should ground our activity in the world. We should do what we can to engage grace, and follow after Paul, who, once he had accepted grace, once he let it transform him, saw and understood his work in the world was to serve Christ, letting nothing get in his way:
We put no obstacle in any one’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger; by purity, knowledge, forbearance, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything (2 Cor. 6:3-10 RSV).
It did not matter what anyone thought of him or how anyone treated him; Paul knew the grace he had been given, he knew the mission he had been given, and he would do the work he was given to do so long as he was able to do so.
We, likewise, must take the grace given to us, find our mission in the world, and embrace it, even if people around us would like to stop us from doing so. This is what we find many great saints had to do, as, for example, we see in the life of St Euphrosyne of Alexandria; she, like many other women, did not feel called to the married life, yet, being the only child of her father Paphnutius, a faithful, but rich, Christian, she knew he wanted her to marry; indeed, he had chosen a rich merchant for her to wed. Before the marriage was to take place, her father went to a monastery in Alexandria, one which he often visited for spiritual counsel, hoping to have the marriage blessed by its hegumen. When he was away, Euphrosyne left, dressed up as a man, and went to the same monastery in Alexandria to be received as a monk under the name of Smaragdus. She lived there for the rest of her life. As it was a monastery her father would often visit, during her many years at the monastery, she would eventually see her father, and hear the grief he felt for having lost his daughter; before she died, many years later, she revealed to him who he was, and asked him to keep it a secret until she died, which not only did he do, but after she died, he sold off all he had and became a monk, taking up the same cell she once resided in. Euphrosyne knew the grace which had been given to her, and the calling it gave to her, and though she knew it would and did grieve her father, she followed its directives, and engaged decades of religious life, finding the grace, and with it, the peace within her soul increasing, When she was able to tell her father who she was, he did not get angry with her, but rather experienced relief and joy before he followed after her and gained a share of that grace for himself. She didn’t do what was expected of her by society, but because her father was a good man, a father who only wished the best for his daughter, he was able to approve of her choice when he knew it and affirm it was good and true – even if the way she went about it went against many social conventions (she didn’t obey her father; she dressed up and pretended to be a man, living with men, etc).
When we receive grace, we should try to discern the way it is working in our lives, transforming us, indeed, to see what it suggests we should do next in our lives, and engage what we find out, so that the grace can increase and not be hindered by us, even if that means we might act contrary to the expectations of society. We might, like Paul, experience people putting obstacles in our way, but we should treat them as Paul did, not worrying about them, but finding a way to continue to do what we are called to do while showing care and compassion for everyone else. If we do so, we will gain much, but if we resist, if we stop engaging the grace given to us and what it encourages us to do, we might lose it. Of course, this does not mean we need to lose it forever, for God is loving, and is willing to restore to us what we lost if we just open ourselves up to it. The key is to cooperate with it; when we do so, it will increase, and with that increase, all kinds of great things can and will follow.
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