Ex Materiā: The Creative Act at the Heart of Discipleship

Ex nihilo. Jesus can miraculously create something out of nothing. We know this. In fact, it’s one of the first things we’re told in Scripture. And yet, how much more often do we see our Maker create something out of something else? Ex materiā, if you will: taking material that already exists and transforming it into something new, something more.

At first, this seems like a less spectacular act. After all, we humans are perfectly capable of creating in this way ourselves, and we do so regularly. When you think about it though, God performing this kind of re-creation is just as awe-inspiring, potentially even more so than creating out of nothing. For it is this kind of creative renewal that is at the very heart of discipleship.

We’re Invited Into the Process

When Jesus looked out at the large, hungry crowd in Mark 6, his response was, “How many loaves do you have?” He could have fed the thousands from scratch, but He didn’t. Instead, He brought the people into the process, meeting their needs by multiplying what they already had. He turned five loaves and two fish into a feast for the masses, complete with leftovers.

By creating in this way, Jesus extends an important invitation. In a world aching for the Bread of Life, His question gives us permission to come and bring what we have been given. Our backgrounds, personalities, dreams, passions, talents, resources may not seem like much compared to the globe’s problems, but we aren’t called to hoard or hide our gifts. As we follow Christ, we have been offered an opportunity to bring all that we have to the table of life and see God use it; to be part of feeding the hungry, even while we ourselves are being fed. This is the invitation of discipleship and what we get to invite others into as we go and point those around us to the One who is able to fill all that is empty.

Parts Become a Whole

In 2 Kings 4, Elisha tells a poor widow asking for help to take what she had in her house (a simple jar of oil) and then rely on those around her. She didn’t feel like she had much, but she had neighbors. She was to go and borrow vessels from her community and then pour the oil into those containers. In the end, God multiplied the oil and the woman was able to sell and use it to pay off her debts and take care of herself and her sons.

As Jesus invites us into the creation process through discipleship, and we in turn invite others, the work becomes about more than what we have as individuals. Our pieces become a part of a bigger whole, our stories become joined with other people’s stories. Neighbors with jars are catalysts for the miracles of our lives and we get to be fuel for theirs.

Sacrifice Is Required

None of this is easy. Christ using what we already have to make something new, means we first have to be willing to let go and give up whatever it is He wants to transform. Adam has one less rib so that Eve could be fashioned; bone of his bones. Abraham needed to offer up his only son Isaac before God made him into a great nation. Peter and Andrew were asked to leave their jobs of actual fishing behind, in order to fish for men instead.

See Also

With the cross at the very center of everything, the gospel doesn’t exist without sacrifice. Neither does a disciple. If we’re called to walk as Jesus walked, living lives that are radically transformed by the Holy Spirit, holding everything we have in open, extended hands is the only way.

The Result Is Redemption

While re-creation requires loss, a death of the old, the end makes it completely worthwhile. For in the very act of accepting Jesus’ invitation, joining with others, offering what you have as a sacrifice to God, you become more like Christ. More like the One who made you and became like you in order to save you from yourself.

Creating something out of nothing is an incredible feat that only God can do. But creating something new, something more, out of something that already exists is the definition of redemption —a process we get to be personally involved in. As disciples who make disciples, we should be entirely grateful and consistently amazed that our Creator doesn’t merely create ex nihilo, but that He creates ex materiā too.

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