Those who have much will be given more…

For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. Matthew 25:29

I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard a sermon based on this tough saying of Jesus. The place where I did find this line was in the book I got for Christmas called Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. (By the way, I also loved his earlier books, The Tipping Point and Blink.)

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Gladwell writes about hidden patterns behind everyday experiences, and in Outliers he looks at what factors influence who becomes successful in life. His chapter called “The Matthew Effect” is based on the fact that this head-scratching line from Jesus, that “those who have will be given more” comes from the book of Matthew.

Gladwell describes how all-star hockey players in Canada almost always have birthdays in January through March, because being born near January 1 gives boys an edge in the highly competitive training that starts before they are even in kindergarten. Because they are slightly more mature, they are given more opportunities to practice and play.  This effect builds on itself – the more they practice early on, the more they achieve later in life.

I used to notice a related effect when I taught Biology. Some smart students would go out for a game of frisbee golf rather than study early on, and were surprised to find later material much harder. Knowledge builds on itself, the more you know, the easier it is to learn. I used to tell my Human Physiology students to try hard to retain what they learned in their early courses, because they more they packed in their mental suitcases now, the more capable they would be as health professionals later on. What they invest at the beginning will be magnified throughout life.

How does this relate to the words of Jesus? The line about “those who have much will be given more” comes up several places in the gospels. In the parable of the soils (Matthew 13:3-9), the same good seed falls on different patches of ground, and the only place it can multiply a hundredfold is in the good soil. In the parable of the talents, (Matthew 25:14-30) servants are given small sums, and depending on how they invest them, they receive great rewards (or punishments) at the end. Both times a tiny seed is sown, a small investment is made that has huge potential. But whether or not it becomes a great thing in the end is entirely dependent on the recipient’s response.

I don’t think that we should read Jesus’ words as threat of punishment, but as a stiff dose of reality. The simple truth is that if we have enough faith to follow Christ, our faith will grow stronger as we attempt to do his will. If we have so little faith that we don’t respond, the tiny bit we do have will tend to grow weaker. No matter how little we have, we need to turn it into response, or else it will decay.

Don’t misunderstand – God won’t ever give up on us because of his great love. It’s never to late to make a change. But the question to ask each morning is, how can I respond in faith to what I’m called to do this very day?  The outcome of the rest of my life depends on it.

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Published in: on January 5, 2009 at 1:18 pm  Comments (1)  

One Comment

  1. “The simple truth is that if we have enough faith to follow Christ, our faith will grow stronger as we attempt to do his will. If we have so little faith that we don’t respond, the tiny bit we do have will tend to grow weaker.”

    What a great statement. I was just reading today about Abraham (the great man of faith) and the Akaidah (Binding of Isaac). One of the opening lines in the story tell that it took three days to reach the mountain of sacrifice. Not only did Abraham have faith(-fullness, he had it for three days! How many times could he have doubted realling hearing the voice of God correctly in that time? But, apparently, his faith(-fullness) had already grown strong enough with earlier moments to handle this. And what greater faith will he have after this?

    Wow. Good stuff. Thanks for the insight.


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