God’s math: Less can be more

Farmville Enterprise August 16, 2017

Our friend Bill McDowell is the director of Second Mile Development in Huntsville, Alabama and he writes a monthly letter for the organization which is similar to Greenville’s Third Street Education Center. One month he described a hungry woman who approached him asking for food and whom he was able to help. He described some of the poor decisions that he later found out that she had made and went on to write, “The decision-making math of our world is simple. Bad decisions equal bad outcomes. She is reaping what she has sown. If I apply the math standard of the world, she is getting out what she has put into this life. As I think about this, I wonder about the math God uses in loving and caring for us. I realize that his math does not add up correctly as I look at the stories that Jesus tells each of us.”

It is true that Jesus often drew mind-boggling conclusions, contrary to our typical way of thinking. “The last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Matthew 20:16)

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:41-44) With the proper attitude, less can be more.

Recorded only in the gospel of Matthew is a parable that Jesus told about workers in a vineyard. The landowner decided to be generous to the laborers who were hired late in the day and paid them the same wage as the workers who started early in the morning. From an accountant’s perspective, that would be an odd choice.

Jesus told the parable of the lost or prodigal son, recorded only in the gospel of Luke. A son demanded that his father give him his share of the estate and then went off to a distant country and squandered all he had in wild living. When he hit rock bottom and came to his senses he decided to return to the father whom he had undoubtedly embarrassed. His father was obviously on the look-out for this rebellious son. “But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Luke 15: 20) Surely that reaction was not what the son deserved.

McDowell wrote, “Is this bad math? Or is the math of grace? God does not pay wages. He gives gifts of grace. It is just as radical a concept in our world today as it was in Jesus’ time.”

 

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