Saturday, June 13, 2015

Cheap vs Costly Grace

This homily by Fr. Lincoln, who currently serves St. James Parish in Tupelo, Mississippi, is posted at


6/14/2015 – 11th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Matthew 4:26-34


We are back in Ordinary Time this Sunday after having many weeks of Lent and the Easter season, of the solemnities of the Most Holy Trinity and the Body and Blood of Christ.  In fact, the last time we had a Sunday in Ordinary Time was way back in February in the middle of winter.  Today, in the middle of our summer months, in the midst of our farmers trying to grow their crops and many of our parishioner trying to grow their gardens with all the rain we’ve been having, its appropriate that we hear Jesus teaching us about the Kingdom of God through parables about seeds.   

In particular, it is the parable of the mustard seed that intrigues me today.  Jesus spoke in parable in our to help us to better understand the Kingdom of God.  The parable of the mustard seed and these other parables are meant to shed light on the new reality we are to live out when we are called to a life of discipleship and when we begin to cooperate with God’s grace in our lives.

Grace – that is an interesting concept, isn’t it?  I will have to admit that perhaps we don’t here about grace enough at mass or in our preaching.  Grace is the presence of God in our lives.  Grace is our participation in the life of God – in the life of the Holy Trinity.  Grace is a supernatural gift that God gives to us, a gift that comes out of his goodness and benevolence, a gift that he bestows upon us for our eternal salvation.  Grace is given to us freely.  But we have to respond to that grace in order for it to bear fruit in our life.  We have the potential to respond to grace, just as the mustard seed had potential to grow into this amazing and wonderful plant.   

Think of how we can validly receive a sacrament, such as receiving the Holy Eucharist when we come to mass.  But there is a difference between validly receiving a sacrament and fruitfully receiving the sacramental graces that this sacrament offers us.  We cannot be passive in our faith, just as we cannot be passive in receiving a sacrament.  We receive God’s grace in the sacraments and in our lives through our personal faith, through our expectancy, through the hunger and thirst we have for God in our lives.

But the grace we are talking about is costly grace, to quote the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the renowned German theologian who was put to death by the Nazis in WWII.   Jesus didn’t die for us and bring us salvation so we could stay trapped in a cycle of sin.   He died for us so that we could be transformed and receive new life.  If Jesus just had pity on us and did not challenge us to rise from our sins, to be transformed into a new creation, then his death would have been in vain.  Then the grace that Jesus offers would be cheap grace. It would be the kind of grace that does not mean anything to us because it does not require anything from us in return.  God’s grace calls us to holiness. It calls us to transformation, renewal, and conversion.   

We all know that there are certain behaviors and lifestyles that our world deems to be acceptable and even praiseworthy.  But through the lens of our faith, those behaviors and lifestyles are not part of the kingdom of God.  That is why Paul boldly asserts today that we walk by faith, not by sight, because the ways of the world can lead us astray sometimes and keep us from repentance and conversion. If we don't walk in the light of our faith, if we don’t interact with the graces we receive from God, then we remain children of the world, not children of the light of Christ...
...I have mentioned before that I really enjoy this daily devotional publication called Give Us This Day published by the Liturgical Press in Collegeville, Minnesota.  One of the features I like is “Blessed Among Us,” which is a short reflect on saint or a person who has lived out his faith in a meaningful way.  I think that the secular world mistakenly views a saint as a perfect person with few flaws and faults.
For us Catholics, saint include those people of faith who rose above their struggles in life, who met life in their reality and tried to infuse that reality with faith, who stand as examples of faith for all of us.   

The Blessed Among Us for Tuesday was an Irishman named Matt Talbot.  Matt Talbot was not a priest or a ground-breaking theologian, or a powerful leader of society.   He was a laborer who struggled to make a living, who had almost no formal education, who was an alcoholic since he was a teen.  Yet, at the age of 28, he had enough of his miserable existence, he walked into a church, committing himself to a path of conversion and change in his life.   He took a pledge not to drink anymore.

Nonetheless, he struggled mightily for the first year, at one point collapsing on the steps of a church, not knowing if he could go another step in life.   But daily mass and a devotion to prayer and penance kept him on the right path. He even tried to make amends to the people he had harmed or to those from whom he borrowed money to buy drink.  We think of the many who struggle in our society with addictions of many kinds.

Cheap grace would excuse those addictions and not challenge us to break out of that cycle.  Cheap grace would let us take the easy way out. But the life of Matt Talbot, an Irishman who died in 1925 and who was named Venerable by Pope Paul VI and who possibly will be canonized one day, is a witness of faith for all of us.  Grace is costly, not cheap.  It demands something for us.  It demands sacrifice and commitment and faith.  Finding a way to respond to grace in our lives is a way for us to let that little mustard seed of faith grow and develop in our lives and to bear fruit.   

And remember this – Love God.  Love your neighbor.  Be a disciple.  Make disciples.