Many folks look at math as an old enemy, still licking the wounds of distant brushes with word problems and equations that were never fully understood, much less solved. For others, math is a comfortable pair of slippers that bring warm and fuzzy memories of solving problems other students could never even figure out how to start tackling.
I probably belonged, and still live, in a third, middle group, where math is a challenge sometimes, but a defeated challenge in the end. Actually, I now like algebra much more than I did way back in high school. Perhaps I have finally found the handle of about as much math as I will ever be able to handle, or need, and that is OK by me.
I love putting together things that seemingly have nothing to do with each other, and figuring out ways that, in fact, they do have something to say to each other. Such is the case with math and faith, for, at first glance, the only connection between a plus sign and a cross is that they look alike and many people tend to pray right before taking math tests.
Accepting the premise that math can be a motivator for prayer, I think that there is a lot more here than meets the eye, or the soul.
For starters, math is about adding and subtracting, and so is Christ’s message to us. If we add graces and good works to our ledger while subtracting our sinfulness and destructive attitudes, we will be making a very positive investment in our spiritual future. If, on the other hand, we add sinful behaviors and thoughts and subtract our love and concern for others in the process, we will be on our way toward a result far worse than the most difficult calculus exam ever was.
Christ tells us to subtract what takes us away from God and add what brings us closer to God, and that is about as simple an equation as any salvation seeker can find. We are taught that, if approached properly, confession subtracts not only our sins, but, as Vinny Flynn tells us in his 7 Secrets of Confession, the root reasons for our sin, which is far more important.
Ultimately, our time, effort, priorities, mind, soul, and life itself are all fixed containers with only so much space. It is up to each of us to choose how we will allocate that space — either by adding or subtracting good works and intentions and, just as importantly, destructive works and intentions.
Christ also teaches us to share our blessings, time, and love with others, which, by definition, requires us to divide our emotional, personal, financial, and temporal resources among those we wish to share with. He promises and demonstrates that those who divide what they have out of love will watch Our Lord multiply their efforts many times over.
Is this not what He accomplished with the multiplication of the loaves and fish as well as at The Last Supper? In both cases, Our Lord divided in order to multiply.
I would like to close this mathematical foray into Our Lord’s example with three points. First, speaking of the multiplication of the loaves and fish, we are told that Christ asked His followers to search among the people for what food could be obtained. We are also told that thousands of people were present. It is not irrational or unrealistic to assume that, among all of those thousands, at least 10% brought some food of their own, which would mean that around 500, if not more, people had some kind of food available yet, from those hundreds, only one young boy offered what little he had. Despite the utter selfishness of the situation where many refuse to share and only one does, Our Lord overcame that selfishness of the crowd, and used the boy’s generosity, to fashion a multiplication of blessings for all.
The second closing point to consider goes back to our comparison between a plus sign and the cross, which, for all intents and purposes, are roughly the same geometric figure. While most would certainly consider a cross a most negative shape given the kind of terrible deaths inflicted on them, Our Lord converts what is generally regarded as a negative image or shape into a most positive shape and image of His ultimate, loving sacrifice for our redemption. This should remind us that it is in precisely the most negative moments that we can find God at our side helping us, should we trust and love Him enough.
Lastly, as the above title notes, Christ is truly a great math teacher, able to convert the esoteric and perhaps confusing concepts of math into real life applications of love and God’s power. However, as perfect a math teacher as Our Lord is, there is one place where He is much better at subtracting than adding, and that is in the confessional, where He waits to subtract our sins and, out of Divine Mercy and love, to stop adding them up.