Them that’s got shall have
Them that’s not shall lose
So the Bible says and it still is news
Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own, that’s got his own.
These lyrics are an expression of how Billie Holiday made God’s gift of wisdom her own. They went through my head as I read this Sunday’s mass readings—all of which are related to that greatest of gifts. In these readings the gift of wisdom is intertwined with the gift of mercy as God lets us hear his words in ways we can understand and make our own.
The first reading from Isaiah (is 55:10-11) says as much:
“My word shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it.”
God won’t let us waste his breath, and in his mercy he sent prophets who could interpret his law using a language native to each one of us. In our second reading Paul explains to the Romans (rom 8:18-23) this mission of mercy and how it saves us from losing hope for salvation while we endure our daily sufferings:
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are as nothing compared with the glory to be revealed for us. For creation awaits with eager expectation the revelation of the children of God.”
Chief among those children was Jesus himself, who revealed the word of God through parables—stories that used the culture and mores of the people of that time and place so they could make God’s law their own. Jesus knew that these people weren’t “getting it,” and in his mercy he manipulated their own native wisdom so the truth would be revealed and they would hunger for more. That’s the nature of wisdom, and the reason crowds formed around Jesus as his earthly mission continued. His explanation from today’s gospel reading about why he preached in parables (mt 13:1-23) is a powerful commentary on God’s mercy and our salvation. He’s saving us from the ways of man:
“To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because they look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.”
Billie Holiday got it. God offers each of us salvation, custom-designing every invitation. If the Spirit blesses us with the wisdom to accept it, we will be saved. Salvation can enter our lives via our own personalized parables. God bless the child who’s got his own.