“Eleven dollars and twenty-six cents!” my niece Lollipop announced after we had counted all of her savings from the shoebox under her bed. It was nearly doubled thanks to the $5 I had used to bribe her to go on the Ragin’ Cagin’ roller coaster at Six Flags, and so I expected her to be delighted.
Instead she threw herself down on the bed and wailed. “I will never earn enough money!” she cried. “How will I ever get $30,000?”
She was hoping to adopt a baby sister and the cost was prohibitive, particularly given the earning power of an eight-year-old.
The adult in me wanted to smile, but I felt something (Someone) nudging my heart, and realized that our similarities were more than physical, and not just because we are both drama queens.
It’s tempting in spite of (or perhaps because of) years of Catholic formation to think we can earn God’s grace, or love or virtue. Even knowing that this is theological nonsense, I often find myself in practice trying to do just that, only to find that in a lifetime I can never earn enough, make myself good enough or be worthy enough.
It’s not as if after a few millennia of working out, St. Peter could walk on water by himself. Or that after a few million motivational talks he’d have the willpower to not deny Jesus three times, or to be crucified upside down, or to preach Pentecost morning while a number of listeners thought he was drunk.
It’s all grace. I know this. I can’t earn it. I can’t make it happen. I can’t even store it up for future use. But what I sometimes forget, is that God is on my side. He desires more good for me than I can ever think to aspire to or ask for.
In today’s Gospel, we see Jesus free a poor soul from the grip of demonic power, only for the Pharisees to spin the story and give credit to Beelzebub. Why are the Pharisees so set against Jesus? They have reduced religion to works, thinking that enough pious practice can earn them a place with God in heaven. Jesus has come to show them that He is the way; there is no other. He longs for them to come to Him, but their hearts are hardened to receiving and relationship.
Jesus then goes Himself out into all of the villages and towns. His heart is moved by the needs of the people, and He goes to them and heals them. There is no question of a trade-off; no payment is required for grace. The Unmoved Mover is moved by the people themselves.
It is from this place of compassion that Jesus asks His disciples to pray for more workers to attend to the harvest. He is not looking for more practitioners of piety, but for those who will share with Him the heart of the Father.
It is only in allowing ourselves to receive the free love of God that we can be freed to truly love and serve others, to be Christ to them. Let us ask for the graces we need to live and love like Jesus.
P.S. Lollipop’s baby sister was born a little over a year later. Her money is still safely under the bed. It seems no action on her part was required. 😊