Word Magazine December 1996 Page 9-10
OF THINE OWN
BY DR. MICHAEL MASSOUH
Dad,” The five year old son asked, “can I have a dollar?”
“A dollar? What are you going to do with a dollar?”
“What kind of something?”
“Dad, can’t I have a dollar?”
“Well, a dollar is a lot of money, you know. Who are you going to buy a present for?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Why can’ …“ And the choke came with the recognition. For Dad’s birthday was coming soon. The father hugged his boy tightly and kissed him tenderly.
Where else was the boy to obtain the money to give a birthday gift to his father?
It was at this point in the father’s life — in the mid forties — that he began to understand God’s relationship to him.
Much as the father looked kindly on his son’s request and motivation, so does our heavenly Father look kindly on us when we become like a child. Christ said, “Verily I say unto you, Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).
God the Father expects each of us to become as a child, as the five year old child did in asking his father for a dollar. Just as the five year old recognized that everything he possessed came from his father so must we recognize that we possess nothing that did not come from God, and that whatever each of us possesses God gave to us. How can a person give something back to God if He did not give it to us in the first place?
Each of us was born into the world with nothing. As Job said, “Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither” (Job 1:21). Life came from God through each of our fathers and mothers. Recognize that at five years of age the child has no income and no job.
Whatever he possesses he has been given it by God and by his parents. And to express his love he gives himself. He hugs and kisses his father and mother, he cuddles up, he wants to he held. He ventures forth each day learning about the world, but he has to return often for reassurance, for encouragement, and for love.
As a child of our Father in Heaven we must do the same. Whatever we possess comes from God. “Every good and perfect gift comes down from thee the Father of Lights” (James 1:17). Everything: our life, our health, our talents, our suffering, our knowledge of God, our spouse and children, our parents, our relations, our friends, our house, job, neighborhood — all things known and all things unknown. Remember when Christ tells Pilate that the power he thinks he has over Christ’s life or death, Pilate could not possess if it had not been given to him by His Father in heaven?
We go out each day to face the world, but we need to return to God often, if not continuously, for reassurance, for encouragement, and for love, just as the five year old returns to his parents after venturing out to learn about the world.
And as the father and mother take care of their five year old son so their Father in heaven takes care of them. Just as the father was thoughtful of his son’s needs and desires, so is his Father in heaven mindful of him. Just as the father wants to maintain a positive relationship with his five year old son, so does his Father in heaven want him to relate to him in a positive way.
Now, how is this done?
Just as the father was pleased that his son wanted to give him something for his birthday, so God is pleased that the father wants to return something to him. And yet, as the father recognizes that his son’s present came from him initially, so it is with God. Whatever we give to Him, He gave earlier.
So what do we offer to God who has everything?
At one point in human history, God asked for explicit things. He instructed Moses as to the proper sacrifices of animals, oil, or grain and their frequency (see Exodus 20:24 and Leviticus 1-9). At that time of nomadic herdsmen, animals, oil, and grain were the necessary products of existence; they were indeed the very well means of livelihood. But later, as the Israelites became urban dwellers, animal sacrifice lost its immediate tie to their daily existence. Even before Christ turned out from the Temple the money changers and the sellers of doves and lambs for ritual sacrifice, the prophets had proclaimed that perfunctory sacrifices were not satisfying to God. “Your burnt offerings are not acceptable,” God says, “nor your sacrifices sweet to me” (Jeremiah 6:20) (see also Isaiah 1:11, Hosea 6:6, 8:13, Micah 6:7-8). As the psalmist says, … “a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalm 51:17).
A contrite heart is still the basic sacrifice to God. In Christian times we offer bread and wine at each Eucharist, rather than a bloody sacrifice, and fruit and flowers at special times of the year. In other words, items of an agricultural society, products that are the direct result of our labor and the fruits of God’s bounty.
For many people today, however, wine and bread, fruit and flowers are not the direct result of our labor, but are readily purchased and perfunctorily given. Indeed, very few of us bake church bread, ferment wine, or grow our own flowers and grapes. So, for most of us an offering of these products is second hand. We are in the same position as the Israelites were in Christ’s time.
Most of us give money as a sacrifice because our industrial society has reduced every item to a dollar value. But, unfortunately, most of us give the minimum and we give it perfunctorily. When God instructed Moses as to the proper gifts to himself, He asked for the unblemished lamb; not one born with imperfections, e.g., Leviticus 4:3, 6:6. In other words, He asked for the best, the most costly, the one that would fetch the best price or taste the most delicious – the one that would indeed be a sacrifice and not a token gift. God knew the hearts of men then. Do you not think He does not know the hearts of men today?
Once we recognize that everything that we possess comes from God, just as a child recognizes that everything he has comes from his parents, then to show our love and affection and to acknowledge our relationship, we will return a costly proportion to him as did the five year old child. The dollar the father gave his son was all the son had to give, and he gave it all back. Instinctively, the son knew that his other needs would be taken care of. Christ has asked us why do we worry what clothes we have or what we eat when God feeds the birds and watches over his creatures. Isn’t God going to be more cognizant of us?
God is not asking for a return of everything He has given us — merely a portion. God has given us talents that we can share with others. Once we realize that the talents that we have are a gift from God then we can give them back to God by sharing them with others for the glory of God. In other words giving our talents takes time and sharing them with others is a way of giving them back to God.
Giving back to God our talents is really giving back something of value, because it takes time out of our busy lives, it is personal, and it is a product of our labor. Furthermore, the talent we return to God and share with others will be as unblemished as we can possibly make it. For example, if God has given us a good voice, we are going to prepare and to rehearse sufficiently well before we sing to an audience. If God has given us administrative talent, then we are going to perform a proper analysis and do our homework before we present a report or undertake an important project. If we possess a skill such as carpentry or plumbing we are going to select the best materials and perform the best work we are capable of because it is done for the glory of God.
One does not have to be rich to give to God nor does one have to give money only. A child’s hug and kisses are more precious to a parent than anything else, particularly when the child reaches the teenage years.
In the Divine Liturgy, the moment that the priest lifts up the gifts of the bread and wine and says “Thine own of thine own we offer unto thee, in behalf of all, and for all,” is the Anaphora, i.e., “the Lifting Up.” What is the priest doing? He is returning to God the things of the people which are from God, for God to bless and to return to them to us sanctified. The priest then asks God to “send down thy Holy Spirit upon us and upon these Gifts here spread forth: And make this bread the precious Body of thy Christ: And that which is in this cup, the precious Blood of thy Christ: Changing them by thy Holy Spirit: Amen, Amen, Amen.”
This is the high point of the Liturgy. By offering to God the gifts He has given us we enter into a relationship where God blesses us and sanctifies what we give him. He returns our gift with an added blessing. In the case of the bread and wine, God returns them to us as the Body and Blood of Christ.
Metropolitan John Zizioulas argues in a recent set of articles that each of us should act as priests in returning to God the gifts of the earth. By approaching the environment as priests offering back to God the things of his creation, we enter into a richer relationship with the creation and with God. Zizioulas asks each of us to be priests of the creation. In doing so we put things right with the world.
By returning to God the gifts He has given to us we enter into a relationship of humbleness with him as the five year old did with his father. The important thing is to recognize that what we possess is from God, that we are asked to return something as a sacrifice, and that whatever it is, that it be as unblemished as we can find or do. In so doing we put ourselves right with God.
Dr. Michael Massouh is a member of St. George Cathedral in Worcester, MA.