The story goes that a chicken and a pig were standing around the barnyard one morning thinking about breakfast.
“You know what I could really go for?” said the chicken. “… a nice breakfast of bacon and eggs.”
“No thanks.” said the pig. “From you, that requires a contribution. From me it requires total commitment.”
I think of this story often because we’re surrounded by a culture of minimal commitments. We see it in commercials : “No commitment to buy.” We see it in the fact that a car or, surprisingly enough, a house can still be bought with “no money down.” Many of us prefer to contribute rather than commit. Contributions are good in so far as they go, but total commitment is the only thing that requires the whole of our selves.
As I read the Gospels, it becomes clear that Jesus was not interested in contributions. He didn’t run a stewardship campaign (though there are many references to a treasury held by the disciples and used to buy food for the poor), He never even passed the plate, and He never raised money for a building. To be sure, those things would come later. In fact, Richard Hooker tells us that just as soon as persecutions were halted in the 4th Century, Christians clamored to build the most expensive and ornate buildings money could buy.
No – Jesus was more interested in raising total commitment. This is why He says to would-be-disciples “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23, Matthew 16:24) Jesus wants your whole life, not merely a part of it. There are several reasons for this among them:
1) God deserves total commitment as a matter of right. Justice demands that God, who is the author of all life, and even more the redeemer of all, is due total commitment. That’s not necessarily motivating to us, though. We know that the landlord is due our rent, or that we owe PG&E our utility bill balances. But, God’s right of commitment is more glorious than a due bill. This is because most of our debts are even exchanges. When it comes to discipleship, things can never be even – not even remotely. Paul writes: “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse in order that I may gain Christ.” (Phil 3:8) The Gospel is the pearl of great price hidden in a field, for which a man will go and sell everything he has in order to buy the field.
2) Total commitment reaches down to the heart. You may have noticed during weddings that the bride and groom are not asked to make total commitments of the heart to each other. Rather, they are asked to make vows. Vows are the way in which we offer our perpetual “choice.” In marriage, man and woman choose each other. But, you know what happens? Over time, the commitment present in the vow becomes by God’s grace the total commitment of the heart. Jesus knows that sometimes the radical and indeed haphazard “Yes” to His will is all it takes to have all of us. He knows that He can never get this by asking people to “try out” the life of a disciple. Surprisingly, we often do this, offering little commitment opportunities to people in the Church. This, without meaning to, obscures the kind of commitment for which Jesus asks.
3) Lastly, total commitment is the means God uses to grow the Kingdom. You may notice that evangelism doesn’t take place because half-hearted Christians make half-hearted attempts. No, it happens when totally committed Christians ask others for total commitment. No missionary ever headed over the oceans of this world thinking – I’ll give this a shot. If it doesn’t work out, no matter. Rather, they cast their cares upon the Lord, and His will. They commit to live in His providence.
4) More than anything else, total commitment is the very character of Jesus. Saint Paul tells us that “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant.. and humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:7-8) What more could be said about this?
The next time you’re tempted to make a contribution, please consider how you can make a total commitment. Whether to your parish, or to your family, or to your work, total commitments make every difference.