Many of the examples used by Jesus give clear and direct advice about our lives. “Is a light brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?” The point is obvious. Light is meant to help others to see where they can walk securely. Therefore you should be light for others.
But then it happens without warning. We are sailing along listening to Jesus’ admonitions, appreciating his effective clarity. Suddenly we run aground like a ship, which strong winds drive onto a beach, because the next saying seems out of place and unclear.
“The measure with which you measure will be measured out to you, and still more will be given you.” That sounds like we should be generous in the way we deal with others because we seal our own fate in doing so. But then our ship runs aground, so to speak. “To the one who has, more will be given; from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
We should not be surprised by the ominous tone of veiled threat in this example since many of the parables of Jesus boldly lay down a challenge to follow him or else. Our ears might hear Jesus’ last statement in terms of our modern economic jargon of “the haves and the have-nots.” Rather, the overarching context of all these sayings is not economic wealth but the parable of the sower, which preceded them at the beginning of this fourth chapter of the Gospel according to Mark.
In that parable, disciples who hear the word of God and respond generously to it are compared to a field, where the seed produces a bountiful harvest of even a hundredfold, far “more” than would have been expected. But those who do not respond to the word of God remain fallow fields. Although the seed of God’s word was also lavishly offered to them, they even lose whatever benefit they might have gained from it.
Discipleship is not easy, no doubt about that. But it is truly the only way to fulfill our deepest desires for God. It is worth the cost.
(Father Paul Zilonka, C.P. is a Member of the Passionist Preaching Team of St. Paul of the Cross Province).