Do you bargain with God? Special Reflection for Sunday, July 27, 2014

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Above:  Pray, Hope and Don’t Worry: Survivors of Super Typhoon  “Yolanda” in the Philippines after the super-typhoon devastated the area. AFP/Philippe Lopez

Do you bargain with God?

“The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it” (Matthew 13:45-46).

The merchant in our parable today does not seem to be a good businessman. Hindi man siya tumawad! He does not ask for a lower price nor does he try to get a freebie thrown in. He does not angle for a better deal; he just goes and sells all that he has to buy the pearl.

I once went with my mother to Divisoria, and the first thing she taught me was to look uninterested in what I really wanted to purchase. The speed with which the merchant in our parable acted leads me to imagine him excitedly running and even panting as he brings all that he has to the owner of the pearl. Then he begs, “This is everything that I possess. I hope it is enough. Please take all of it and sell me your pearl.” What if the going price for the pearl was lower than what the merchant offered?

If the merchant in this parable seems to lack business acumen, the man in our other parable does not have an ounce of street smarts.

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).

The lucky finder just squandered his good fortune. No one was around when he found the treasure, or at the very least, no one was watching him. Proof: He was able to hide the treasure again. Why did he have to go and sell all that he had to buy the field? Why did he not just run away with the treasure right there and then or perhaps return under the cover of night to take the treasure away? Another detail worthy of note: He relinquished everything he had with great joy. Hindi nanghihinayang. Hindi nagkukuwenta.

The two men in our parables today will probably never make it to the Fortune 500 list as CEOs. But our parables today are not about making money. They are about the Kingdom of God. And with the Kingdom of God, you do not haggle. You do not bargain. But many times, we do bargain with God.

We tell God, “I will give you this and that, but let me keep this portion of my life for me. I know it is not ideal, but I have given you everything else. Ibalato mo na sa akin ito.” It can be a “favorite” sin, a vice we do not even want to try to quit, an act we know God is calling us to do but we keep putting off – whether it be to forgive someone, humbly admit we are wrong, or profess our love more strongly.

We tell God, “Yes to all, except X. With X, I have to say no – or at least, accept my ‘not yet.’” What have we been holding back from God? These are also what we keep away from his blessings. God cannot bless what we do not lift up to him.

That the merchant does not negotiate for a better deal and that the man who found the treasure does not just steal it tell us that the Kingdom of God has a price that we must pay. We cannot get into the Kingdom at a discount, and we cannot jut weasel our way into it. We may ask: Why does the Kingdom of God command such a steep price? But if we read our parables again, we will find that no price is named. So what does the Kingdom of God cost? For the Kingdom, God does not ask for much; God asks only for all.

Consider this one more time: God does not ask for much; God asks only for all.

That may seem harsh and overly demanding, but it is actually gracious. It is actually Good News! In our parables again, what if the man digging in the field only had the clothes on his back to sell? In the strange economics of the Kingdom, that would have been enough to buy the field. What if the merchant only had two lumps of coal to his name? That, too, would have been enough for the pearl. If God names a specific price, many of us may not be able to afford it. There are only a handful of Paul Gettys and Warren Buffetts in the world. Most of us will never be as smart as Einstein or as eloquent as Balagtas. But God never asks us for straight A’s in school or a high level of expertise and achievement in our chosen fields. God only asks that we give our all. That will always be enough.

Can we give our all to God? And can we give it, like the man who found the treasure in the field, with great joy?

One last point: Why did the man who found the treasure buy the whole field? Why did he not bury the treasure near the edge of the field so that he would need to purchase only a small part of the land? Perhaps, it is because he thought that if he found some treasure in one part of the field, there might be even more treasure in other parts of the field. I can imagine him now: Upon gaining ownership of the field, he begins digging — with great joy — for other treasures. Many times, he digs up nothing but dirt. But he continues shoveling deeper and deeper — and always with great joy.

Most of the time, the price we have to pay for the Kingdom is the daily grind. Day in and day out — for some of us, night in and night out — we show up for what God has called us to do: schoolwork, office work, housework. Not every day is stellar. Not every moment is one for the books. But can we still continue giving it our all, expecting to be surprised by treasure at every turn, and so turning every corner with great joy?

How can we keep on doing this? We have to remind ourselves of the treasure that we have found: Our God is a God who also gives all. Our God is the seemingly foolish merchant who has bought our salvation far from a bargain price. Our God is the hopeful romantic digging through the field who shovels through the crap we have buried ourselves in, and finally finding us, joyfully declares, “You are my treasure.”

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First Thoughts from Peace and Freedom

Careful readers of the works of the young Saint Augustine will recall that he bargained with God.

“Please help me God. I know I am not living the life you want me to lead and I must reform. BUT NOT YET!”

We all hold back. Even Saint Augustine held back. But not forever. Our task is to develop a trusting relationship with God. He is obviously worthy of our trust: but are we worthy of His?

Some of the greatest spiritual writers encourage us to give ourselves unreservedly to God. St. Augustine, St. Francis de Sales, and many other tell us to abandon ourselves to God.

God, I offer myself to Thee-
To build with me
and to do with me as Thou wilt.
Relieve me of the bondage of self,
that I may better do Thy will.
Take away my difficulties,
that victory over them may bear witness
to those I would help of Thy Power,
Thy Love, and Thy Way of life.
May I do Thy will always!
Thank you, God, Amen!

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My Creator, I am now willing that You should have all of me, good and bad. I pray that You now remove from me every single defect of character which stands in the way of my usefulness to you and my fellows. Grant me strength, as I go out from here, to do Your bidding. Amen

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Jean Pierre de Caussade (7 March 1675 – 8 December 1751), advice on people having great troubles, anxiety, depression:

“They have only to fulfill the simple duties of the Christian Faith and of their state of life, to accept with submission the crosses that go with those duties, and to submit with faith and love to the designs of Providence in everything that is constantly being presented to them to do and to endure, without searching for anything themselves.”

From: “Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence,” (also sometimes called “The Value of the Present Moment”), TAN Books edition, 1987.

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Related:

The Road to Hope by Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan

Many of  Nguyễn Văn Thuận letters, prayers and sermons have been preserved and published — most are available at fine bookstores and from Amazon.

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Book: Joseph’s Way: The Call to Fatherly Greatness – Prayer of Faith: 80 Days to Unlocking Your Power As a Father by Devin Schadt
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As no sensible person would make a long road trip without first consulting a map, so the person intent upon gaining Heaven should turn to a competent guide to reach that most important goal. An Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) is addressed as a personal letter to Philothea, the “lover of God.” This book instructs us in our approach to God in prayer and the Sacraments, the practice of 16 important virtues, remedies against ordinary temptations, and becoming confirmed in our practice of devotion. TAN-CLASSICS Edition; paperback.

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