THE ABUNDANCE OF GOD
by Nancy Holloway
The Gospels, in depicting the life and ministry of Christ, are seen by us through the lens of faith. To the non-believer, Jesus was a good man, healing the sick, performing what were perceived to be miracles, dying an unnecessary and unjust death and reportedly seen after his death by certain of his followers.
However, to the believer — the lover of Christ the Gospels shimmer as a richly-textured and complex tapestry, reverberating with meaning upon meaning to provide food and enlightenment for all who seek its wisdom with humility and joy.
Some of the threads which we see through the eyes of faith depict the warm glow of Christ’s beneficence his profound love of his disciples, his deep caring for all those he encountered; others sparkle with his wit, his total realism of his awareness of the agony and hope of men’s lives; others depict the brittleness of his caustic words to the self-righteous of his day — the Pharisees who trod over the poor to keep the jot and tittle of the law. There is also the deep darkness depicting the agony of his passion — his total commitment to the cup which he must drink, the baptism of fire before him.
But one thread in particular shimmers with a blinding brilliance; that one that underlies all the others, the one before which we stand in awe and wonderment unable to comprehend or fathom — that which we might refer to as — the “abundance of God”.
The first of Christ’s miracles, as reported in John, hints at the outpouring which is to come — the wedding feast at Cana, where he reprimands his mother for her gentle request, with “Woman … my hour has not yet come,” but nevertheless proceeds to turn water into wine — not just sufficient for the feast but 120 gallons of the finest vintage — that which by virtue of its quality should have been served first rather than kept until last.
The feeding of the five thousand, the one miracle reported in all four Gospels, continues this theme. The disciples, when told by Jesus to feed the crowds, could only produce five loaves and two fish. By blessing their offerings, he created an abundance from which not only were five thousand fed and satisfied, but twelve baskets were left over.
He referred to his kingdom as similar to a mustard seed which even though the smallest of all seeds, when grown becomes a tree so great that the birds of the air can make their nests in its branches.
Jesus’ appearance after his resurrection to his disciples at the Sea of Galilee when they had fished all night and caught nothing, was another occasion demonstrating this lavishness. In obedience to his command to cast the net on the right side of the boat, they were not able to haul it in, due to the great quantity of fish which were in it.
His own words to his disciples referred to the abundance of life which he offered in fact his mission on earth was described in these terms: “I have come that you might have life in all its abundance, in all its fullness.”
… and finally, that greatest gift of all, that act of total, self-giving love, in which he gave all he could give, the offering up of the Creator for the creature, his death on the cross to win back at the highest possible price, the beloved who had gone astray.
Julian of Norwich, the 14th century mystic, in the revelations she received, heard Christ saying to her, in revealing his passion: “If I could suffer more, I should suffer more.” “I say truly,” Julian says, “that as often as he could die, so often should he die and love would never let him rest until he had done it. And I contemplated with great diligence to know how often he should die if he would. And truly the number so far exceeded my understanding and intelligence that my reason had not leave or power to comprehend or accept it.”
Why then this abundance of God? Why does he overwhelm us with his goodness, the bounty of creation, his incredible love, the total giving of himself through his life and death? He does this because he is total love and such love must give totally. It was this love which created us for fellowship and communion with him, which was crucified in our rejection of him, and it is this love which will pursue us to the end of time in the attempt to bring us back to himself.
The bounty he pours out seeks to elicit from us a similar response. He overwhelms us, hoping that when our cup is running over, we will catch some glimmer of its Source. It is given not to provoke us into becoming obsessed with receiving but so that we will turn in gratitude to the Giver. He gives to us in order to bring us to Him. He emptied himself, so that we could be filled. He became nothing that we might become everything that we can become. The abundance of God knows no bounds. As St. Paul says, “Eye has not seen nor has ear heard, nor has the heart of man conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.”
How, then, do we respond to the abundance of God? We respond in like manner. This absolutely rules out religious tokenism, in which we set aside one day, one part of our lives, a bit of our possessions, piece meal to appease the Source and Giver of all Gifts. Rather, we respond to this abundance with abandonment by a total outpouring of ourselves in worship, prayer and an obedience which can take any road he might call us down — the agenda is his, our task is to become supple and usable in his hands.
This, then, expressed itself in love and service to our neighbor — again, not in tokenism — guarded acts of charity, lukewarm morality, nodding acquiescence to efforts at social justice. Just as God loves us whether or not we return that love, we must also love our neighbor without being expected to be loved in return, without concern for our spiritual and material profit but simply for the glory and praise of God and to return to him in some infinitesimal degree, the love he has given to us.
We respond, to God’s love, then, not only by actions, but by becoming; not simply by a heightened morality but by a surrendered life. We give him our heart, soul, mind and strength through worship, prayer, meditation and single-minded devotion; then with our vision clarified by the encounter with him, we turn and open ourselves to the needs of those around us.
Further, we respond, not as the prodigal son wished to do when returning to the father “I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired hands.” No, we have been given the status of true sons and daughters of God and as his true sons and daughters and joint-heirs with Christ, we are called to imitate Him and to walk the narrow and joyful way which he walked. And so as recipients of the outpouring of that immeasurable love and forgiveness, we turn to our brothers and sisters — those who have wounded us — and forgive them with that forgiveness with which we have been forgiven and love them with that love with which we have been loved.
St. Paul in that glorious ending to the 3rd chapter of Ephesians, remarks on the abundance of God and our own share — our birthright as his sons and daughters — in this abundance:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with might through his Spirit in the inner man, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever, Amen. (Eph. 3:14-21)
Nancy Holloway is the co-director of the Berea Children’s Center in Berea, Kentucky and a member of the St. Andrew Orthodox Mission in Lexington, KY.
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America