The Abundance of God as an Invitation to Generosity
Sustainability – What the Scholars are saying!
Written By: Ronald Rolheiser Reproduced with Permission www.ronrolheiser.com
Scientists tell us that, every second, inside the sun the equivalent of 4 million elephants are being transformed into light; an irretrievable, one-time gift. The sun is giving itself away. If this generosity should halt, all energy would eventually lose its source and everything would die and become inert. We, and everything on our planet, live because of the generosity of the sun.
In this generosity, the sun reflects the abundance of God, a largesse that invites us to also be generous, to have big-hearts, to risk more in giving ourselves away in self-sacrifice, to witness to God’s abundance. But this isn’t easy; instinctually we move more naturally to self-preservation and security. and by nature, we fear and we horde. Because of this, whether we are poor or not, we tend to work out of a sense of scarcity, fearing always that we don’t have enough, that there isn’t enough, and that we need to be careful in what we give away, that we can’t afford to be too generous. But God belies this, as does nature. God is prodigal, abundance, generous, and wasteful beyond our small fears and imaginations. Nature too is stunningly overwhelming and prodigal. The scope of our universe, even just in so far as we know it, is almost unimaginable. So too is the abundance and prodigal character of God.
We see this, for instance, in the biblical parable of the ‘Sower’: The Sower, God, whom Jesus describes, is not a calculating person who sows his grain carefully and discriminately only into worthy soil. This Sower scatters seeds indiscriminately everywhere: on the road, in the bushes, in the rocks, into barren soil as well as into good soil. He has, it seems, unlimited seeds and so he works from a generous sense of abundance rather than from a guarded sense of scarcity. We see that same abundance in the parable of the vineyard owner, where the owner, God, gives a full day’s wage to everybody, whether he or she worked the full day or not. God, we are told, has limitless wealth and is not stingy in giving it out.
God is equally as prodigal and generous in forgiveness, as we see, in the Gospels. In the parable of the Father who forgives the prodigal son, we see a person who can forgive out of a richness that dwarfs dignity and calculated cost to self. We see this same largesse in Jesus himself as he forgives both those who executed him and those who abandoned him during his execution. God, from everything we can see, is so rich in love and mercy that he can afford to be wasteful, over-generous, non-calculating, non-discriminating, incredibly risk-taking, and big-hearted beyond our imaginations.
That’s the invitation: To have a sense of God’s abundance so as to risk always a bigger heart and generosity beyond the instinctual fear that has us believe that, because things seem scarce, we need to be more calculating.
Gospel of Luke has one of the strongest social justice messages in all of scripture (every sixth line is a direct challenge for justice for the poor) and yet, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus, while warning about the danger of wealth, does not condemn the rich or riches. Rather he makes a distinction between the generous rich and the miserly rich. The former are good because they radiate and incarnate God’s abundance and generosity while the latter are bad because they belie God’s abundance, generosity, and huge heart.
Jesus assures us that the measure we measure out is the measure that we ourselves will receive in return. In essence, that says that the air we breathe out will the air we re-inhale. That is not just true ecologically. It is a broad truth for life in general. If we breathe out miserliness, we will re-inhale miserliness; if we breathe out pettiness, we will breathe in pettiness; if we breathe out bitterness, then bitterness will be the air that surrounds us; and if we breathe out a sense of scarcity that makes us calculate and be fearful, then calculation and fearfulness will be the air we re-inhale. But, if aware of God’s abundance, we breathe out generosity and forgiveness, we will breathe in the air of generosity and forgiveness. We re-inhale what we exhale. I have never met a truly generous man or woman who didn’t say that, always, he or she received more in return than he or she gave out. And I have never met a truly big-hearted man or woman who lived out of a sense of scarcity. To be generous and big-hearted we have to first trust in God’s abundance and generosity. From God’s abundance we get a sun that is generous and a universe that is too huge and prodigal to be imagined. That’s a challenge not just to the mind and the imagination, but especially to the heart – for it to become huge and generous.