Source: Orthodx New England / Fall 2009
On our hearts and minds today, and on the hearts and minds of people throughout the world, is the state of the economy. The economy is said to be unstable right now. And here's one of the big question of the day: should we invest our money or keep it? I remember in economics class back in college, something impressed me as a fundamental truth, and our economics professor made a big point of it. The science of economics is based on the principle of scarcity . . . that is, there are only so many resources at any particular time and the motivation for investment, production, and trade is scarcity. St.Paul, in his second epistle to the Corinthians, speaks of investment, and in this case, it is probably the investment of money. In this epistle he is asking the Corinthian community to prepare an offering for helping some other Christian communities in need. St. Paul also talks about sowing. He says "he who sows sparingly will reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." (2Cor 9:6) Paul is strongly advocating investing . . . and his meaning here is not simply that the people should invest money to get money back, but they should invest money to receive abundance from God in many forms, but primarily the blessings of the kingdom of God that accompany righteous acts. Why does he do this?
On what does he base this?
While the investment principles of the world's economy, are based on the fundamentals of scarcity and demand, the economy of the kingdom of God is not based on scarcity and demand at all. There are some crucial differences between the world's economy, and God's economy in the Kingdom. In the world, the fundamental driving force of the economy is scarcity, but the economy of the Kingdom of God is based on abundance and availability. People came to Christ driven by their scarcity, uncertainty, lack of food, lack of health, lack of knowledge, insecurity, and lack of faith. Christ never turned them away. For Christ possesses an abundance of power for healing, abundance of teaching and wisdom, even abundance of physical food. This is still true today. Can you imagine Christ speaking about scarcity? Hardly! In our faith there is an abundant source of everything we truly need in life. And all of it is ours for the asking. Christ says "Ask, and you shall receive; seek and you shall find; knock, and the door will be opened. For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, it will be opened to them. Or what man of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" (Luke 11:9-13) So, whereas we are conditioned to think about scarcity in this world, there is no scarcity, no competition for goods in the kingdom of God. Again, in St. Paulís words: "God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. . . . He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your resources, and increase the harvest of your righteousness." (2Cor 9:8-10) But, investment in the Kingdom involves a great deal of loss. Consider the Sower in the parable. (Luk 8:5-8) Christ implied that much of His own investment, the sowing of Himself as the Word of God, would be lost. In fact, perhaps most of that investment would be lost. How much seed was taken by birds? How much died before the harvest, either for lack of good root or being choked by the cares of the world? How many people believed in Christ then, and how many today? How many simply refuse His complete investment in them, and never bear fruit for themselves, for God, or anyone else? Most of what Christ invested, his teaching, his works of power and healing, his love for the disciples and for everyone with whom He came into contact in this world, was ultimately lost. And for all His investment, He was rejected and killed. In the parable of the Sower in the Gospel, Christ foretells this. He foresees that the seeds He is sowing as the Word of God Himself, will not take root or will die before they produce anything. And yet, on the flip side, Christ changed the entire world, didnít He? And the Church continues to experience that change, as the Body of Christ, to live it. For in Christ we are all created anew, we are all changed in Christ. And the Church in turn invests itself for the life of the world. And so we come to another difference in the economics of the Kingdom of God and that of the world: In the Kingdom of God, you can lose most of your investment, and still get a big return. On this point, we could also reflect on God's investment in the people of Israel, via the prophets. God invested over and over again, only to be confounded by a stubborn and rebellious people, over and over again. But, even after all that seed was apparently lost, some of it fell into good soil, and produced fruit. The best example of this, of course, was Mary, the Theotokos, whose obedience and righteousness produced the fruit of the Incarnation and the whole Church. She was the good soil of the nation of Israel, and God's Word fell into her, and produced fruit. Or, we can think of St. John the Baptist, who produced the fruit of preparation for the Incarnation. God has lost most of His investment in the people of Israel. . .the prophets were killed, the people were destroyed and exiled. Not only did God lose most of what He invested, but He, Himself, would lose everything in making that investment. His investment was absolute and complete, He gave his entire being, body and blood . . . and You could say He lost everything in His death.
But ultimately the return was tremendous. This dynamic of total self-giving begins with Christ and extends to all who follow Him. For, he told His disciples they would have to do the same.
A final economic principle of the Kingdom of God is this: you have to be ready and willing to invest everything in order to have any hope of receiving something back. Not only is this witnessed to in Christ's sacrificial life and death, but also by the lives and deaths of the martyrs and saints in the life of the Church. To be a disciple means to be willing to lose everything for the safe of Christ and others. Christ plainly taught this and those who have done this we recognize as saints, and in fact we are all called to this in some form or another. How do we apply these rules of the Kingdom of God in our own lives? How do we go about allowing our minds and hearts to be transformed to live by these economic rules of the Kingdom that are so different from the economic rules that we are used to in this world?
1) The Seed which produces fruit is the Word of God, and that is Christ, the Word of God, in us. We cannot produce fruit without Him. We are the soil which contributes to the growth of the seed, but the seed is Christ and without that seed there is no possibility of harvest or fruit. We surround this seed of Christ, with the good soil of our hearts, in prayer and the reading of Scripture, in order that the seed in us is not open to being trampled upon and stolen by the birds, but is protected. Remember: there is no scarcity in Christ, and we will have everything if we have Him; and we will have nothing without Him.
2) Never tire of investing, even when much of what we invest may be lost. Again, as St. Paul says: "Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2Cor 9:7) This applies not only to the giving of money, but of other resources as well, such as time, energy, concern, prayer. We may not experience the return on our investment immediately, or in a way we might wish. But, remember, in the kingdom of God, you can lose most of your investment, but you can still get a huge return in the end . . . losing most of your investment will not limit your harvest, or your reward. And finally, if the third principle is that we must learn to invest everything, and be willing to lose it all, in order to have hope of return, then:
3) Ask yourself: how is God calling me to invest? What is the next step to investing all for the sake of having Christ? Is it, in fact, loosing our grip on our earthly treasure? Is it, perhaps loosing our grip on some dependency that is taking the place of reliance on Christ? Is it, perhaps, admitting some wrong and taking that as an offering to the person we have wronged, or taking it to Christ with the witness of a priest in confession? Is it perhaps, the willingness to fast and release ourselves from an inappropriate dependency on food? Or, are we called to fast from some entertainment to hear Christ's voice? Each of us must seek what the next step is toward total investment. Thank God the economics of the kingdom of God are not as the economics of the world. There is no scarcity in Christ, and ultimately our investments are completely safe with him, and though they may be lost, will be returned to us a hundred fold. Do not tire in giving and investing, do not tire in the scattering of seed, as our heavenly Father has sown the seed of the Word of God, Christ, into our lives. Do not hestitate to take the next step, whatever that is, in a total investment in Christ. May God strengthen us for this, that we may reap the harvest and reward of Christ in His Kingdom.
Fr. Paul Coats is the Associate Pastor at Nativity of the Holy Theotokos Church in Charlotte, NC. He graduated from St.Vladimirís Seminary in 2008.