by Fr Gabriel-Allan Boyd
Presvytera Danita caught me completely by surprise that evening. But there was no hesitation in her nurturing resolve to get my daughter started early. She called out, “Faith, come in here to the kitchen. You’re going to help me cook dinner tonight.”
Cook dinner? Our daughter was only four years old at the time. This was most certainly a crazy idea! Even she had a bit of trepidation about the idea. She had no cooking knowledge. Nor did she have any motor-skills worthy of such refined tasks. What in the world could a four-year-old do to help? It was a pretty safe bet that our dinner would be compromised in some way. Yet, my clever wife had little tasks prepared for her to do and she insisted that it would be OK. Presvytera knew what she was doing and our daughter was cooperative in the adventure.
Did my daughter make any mistakes while helping her mother cook dinner? Well, of course she did. She was just four years old, after all. It was inevitable. She tipped bowls over. She got ingredients all over things, including dropping an egg on the floor that first night. But, it was OK, because Presvytera Danita didn’t expect flawless cooking skills from a four-year-old. Instead, she perceptively anticipated the wonderful thing that did happen. Whatever mistakes my daughter made under her mother’s watchful eye, Presvytera Danita was able to fix them along the way. And night after night, as my daughter continued to help her mother in the kitchen, in spite of a child’s predictable mistakes, our dinner turned out consistently delicious and Presvytera kept her beloved family suitably nourished. Eventually, my daughter developed into a competent cook in the process. But that never would have happened, had Presvytera Danita not risked our dinner to include our young, inexperienced daughter as a co-worker. It also never would have happened had our daughter not cooperated in the adventure of learning with her mother.
Similarly, God—the Bread of Life—invites each of us into His kitchen to help Him nourish the world. Through Saint Paul, He tells us that, “We are God’s fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9). Of course, for most of us, the thought of being fellow workers with God is a little intimidating. It’s a crazy idea! We don’t have anywhere near God’s scope of knowledge for accomplishing His ministry. Nor do we have the advanced agility needed to keep from making mistakes. It’s practically a guarantee that our efforts in attempting God’s ministry will be filled with our mistakes. What in the world could any of us do to help God? So, when God asks us to be His fellow workers, it’s really a lot like Presvytera Danita inviting a four-year-old to help cook dinner. Our omniscient God has little tasks prepared for us to do and He insists that it will be OK. God knows what He’s doing when He asks us to help Him in this way. Under His watchful eye, He perceptively anticipates the mistakes we’ll make in our naïveté. And we can make no mistake that’s beyond His power to fix. Considering God’s creation of the universe out of nothing, we have to come to grips with the reality that we’re simply not so powerful that we can create a problem that God can’t make right.
So, what it is exactly, that God is asking us to work on with Him, and what does that look like outside of Presvytera’s kitchen? In Greek, the phrase that Paul uses for, “fellow workers,” is, “συνεργοί,” (synergy). But we have to be careful in understanding what this means. This isn’t describing equals who work together in a 50/50 controlling-partnership…where we get to decide what God needs to accomplish here on earth. Approaching anything that way would be presumptuous and arrogant for us as figurative four-year-olds in God’s universe. Instead, Saint Paul is talking about the way we work together with God to carry out His ministry to the world. That word, “συνεργοί,” has also been translated into English as “cooperators.” God asks us to cooperate with Him. That means that while there are indeed two operators (us and Him), there is only one operation—God’s operation. He simply asks us to unify ourselves with Him and His plans for nourishing the world. Being fully aware of our immaturity, God allows us to do things with clumsy childlike imprecision and mistakes, till He teaches us, by practice, the skills we need for His ministry. We’re not suddenly given these skills in one miraculous trick, like at a magic show. We’re not abruptly given abilities that we never had before. Rather, God simply asks us to enthusiastically cooperate with Him in His efforts to organically grow us in His likeness…which means allowing ourselves permission to make imperfect offerings along the way. We can’t be so fearful of making mistakes that we bury our efforts to participate with God.
If you recall from last Sunday’s Gospel Reading of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents, there was one servant who, out of fear of making a mistake with the talent that his Master entrusted to him, refused to use it for his Master’s sake. Instead, he buried it, until he could return it to his Master unused. Jesus calls that servant’s fear, merely “wicked and lazy.” For the servant’s lazy refusal to cooperate with his Master’s operation (his refusal to bear fruit), Jesus says that the Master had “that worthless servant cast into the outer darkness; there people weep and gnash their teeth.” The Master couldn’t have cared less about the possibility of that servant’s mistakes. What the Master desired was a servant who was so enthusiastic about his Master’s operation that he was emboldened to put forth the effort to cooperate in it.
Our Master’s operation—His business—is growing His Kingdom, nourishing the world with the Bread of Life and reconciling the world back to Him. Saint Paul also tells us that we represent Him in the world as Christ’s “ambassadors,” something that involves both our actions and our speech (2 Corinthians 5:20). Through his letter to the Church in Colossi, Saint Paul tells us that our goal should be wisdom in the way we interact with outsiders, “making the most out of every opportunity.” He says, “Let your words always be filled with grace, seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should answer each person” (Colossians 4:5-6). In essence here, he takes us back into the kitchen to give us some lessons in sweet (grace) and savory (salt). What does it mean to “make the most of every opportunity” and have your words “filled with grace and seasoned with salt”? When speaking about this passage, Saint John Chrysostom says it means that we’re not to be indifferent about the fate of those outside the Church, nor simply to be agreeable with them, but rather, to have the loftiness of mind to step outside of our own self-absorbed concerns and enter in with every opportunity to “divert their attention” to more useful aims.
God is calling you into His kitchen to help Him make something delicious—something sweet and savory—that nourishes the people around you. He knows you’ll be imperfect. He knows you’ll make mistakes along the way and He’s OK with that. Just belly up to the kitchen cabinet with some enthusiasm and cooperate with Him.