Most of us are probably familiar with the concept of “matching grants.” They can work in a variety of ways. If we contribute $100 to a non-profit like PBS, for example, they will sometimes have a company or donor who will match that donation. In other words, that company or donor will also contribute $100 to PBS to match yours. Or sometimes the grant organization will say to a non-profit’s request: We will award you the grant to build that children’s playground, but first you must raise 20% from other donors. Matching grants are a way to broaden fund raising efforts. In simple terms, it also means no one—not the requester, not the donor, and not the grant awarder—has to do all the work!
In her new book, A Little Book of Light: Sparks of Hope, Moments of Prayer, Alice Camille (a favorite writer of mine) implies that God gives us matching grants. Before Jesus ascended into heaven, he gave his disciples a daunting task: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses… to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). To the ends of the earth?! Yikes! Sometimes I can’t even be a witness to Jesus in my own house!
But the key part of this evangelization mission is the power of the Holy Spirit. Camille writes, “If it were strictly up to you and me, Christianity would hardly make it down the block.” She says that this vital role of the Spirit in our lives “doesn’t mean we get to relax in our rocking chairs” and let the Spirit do all the work. No, the Spirit lives in us. “It moves in concert with our efforts.” I do my part (which might be 10% or at times even only 1%), and the Spirit does the rest. Says Camille, “It’s the best matching grant in the universe!”
Perhaps no story in the gospel illustrates “God’s matching grant” better than the story of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes. In Mark’s version, Jesus has just finished talking to a huge crowd—4,000 people. He is moved with pity for them, because they are hungry. His disciples share his concern. They moan, “Where can anyone get enough bread to satisfy here in this deserted place?” Jesus asks them, “How many loaves do you have?” They answer, “Seven.” We know what happens next. Jesus tells the people to sit on the ground. Then he takes the loaves in his hands, offers thanks, breaks them, and hands them to his disciples to distribute. Jesus does the same with the fish. The people eagerly eat and “are satisfied.” And there are even leftovers—seven baskets worth!
This story doesn’t merely describe something that happened over 2,000 years ago. It describes something that continues to happen today in our world, our church, our parishes, our homes. We do not have to do all the work to make our world a better place. We have only to begin, only to do our small part, only to give what we can—and the Spirit will do the rest. Sometimes the Spirit will act through others who join our efforts, and sometimes the Spirit will act in ways we can only marvel at.
I often see the Spirit acting in my talks and writing. Sometimes a listener will tell me how much they appreciated something I said, and I don’t even remember saying it. Or if I do remember saying it, this listener heard it in a way I didn’t intend, but in a way she needed to hear it and draw encouragement from it. Or I write an article, and someone tells me their favorite sentence, and that sentence might be the one I almost deleted because I thought it was superfluous.
Alice Camille concludes with another allusion to scripture. She says, “Even though the yield of the soil to one hundredfold comes from God, the sower still has to get off the recliner and plant the seed. We do our little part, so the Spirit can multiply it.”
What seed might I plant today?
Have you ever experienced the Holy Spirit “multiplying” something little that you gave?
Can you think of anything which is now big and beautiful that started out as something small?
Here is a song by Dan Feiten called “Seed, Scattered and Sown.” Perhaps you may have sung this song in your church.
Once again I invite you to write a comment below! Don’t be shy… Thank you!