God’s Overwhelming Subtlety

Humanity’s faith in God is a miracle. He makes the little that we offer Him go a long way—without being showy about it. His most beautiful miracles in the Bible are displays of subtlety. In the book of Kings (http://www.usccb.org/bible/1kings/19), when Elijah stood on the mountain waiting for a message from God, it did not come to him in a mighty wind, earthquake or firestorm, but in a tiny whisper. Humanity has trouble appreciating the power of subtlety, so we often miss the tiny miracles that fill our lives every day. Our philosophy tends to be go big or go home. That philosophy carries a lot of weight in man’s world of illusion, but it eventually gets us into trouble, whether in business relationships or in interpersonal ones.

That little personality quirk may seem charming to others upon introduction, but it soon becomes annoying or worse as relationships develop. I’ve learned that the more I try harnessing a mighty wind upon which to make my character soar, the fuller of hot air I seem.

Nevertheless, that kind of hocus pocus is the foundation of political science and may explain why we keep falling for the same line of pungent rubbish thrown at us by all parties in an election cycle. Candidates go big with their promises and posturing. Of all the human traits Jesus adopted through his incarnation, this was not one of them. And as we read in this Sunday’s gospel (Mk 12:38-44), such pomposity was the target of his contempt.

“Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets,” Jesus says. “They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.”

Jesus contrasted this behavior with the awesome power of small human sacrifices. He points out to his disciples the widow to whom a few cents represents a life savings, yet she sacrifices it—quietly–for a cause outside her own interests. Jesus liked to use such examples of concentrated power in his teachings. He taught us that faith the size of a mustard seed could move mountains. He showed us how food fit for only a few people could feed multitudes. As Matthew Kelly writes in his new book, Rediscover Jesus, God can work miracles with the little faith we have, if we just bring it to him.

The concentrated power of faith is also shown in our first reading (1 Kgs 17:10-16), and again, our example is a humble one. Elijah meets a poor widow whose resources are about to dwindle away—and he has the audacity to ask for some of it.

“There is only a handful of flour in my jar and a little oil in my jug,” she tells him.

No problem, Elijah tells her in effect.

“Make me a little cake and bring it to me. Then you can prepare something for yourself and your son.”

As a result of her tiny act of faith and kindness, she and her son were able to eat for another year.

If this one simple act of faith is enough to save two lives, what would it take to save all of humanity? Just one life—spent only once—yet resulting in mass redemption, as described in our second reading from Hebrews (Heb 9:24-28).

“Christ, offered once to take away the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to take away sin but to bring salvation to those who eagerly await him.”

If we can just tolerate each other’s pungent personalities until our Savior comes, that will be a major miracle in itself.

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