It seems that whenever I ask people, “What is the first word that comes to your mind when I mention Stewardship?” The answer inevitably is “money.” Their notion may be colored by their experience of some interpretation of what it means to be a good steward, or the fact that the word is often mistakenly substituted for “tithing.” While tithing may be a form of stewardship of this world’s goods, it does not embody the full notion of Christian stewardship. They think “because I’ve done something good for God, I expect a return favor,” This is the opposite of stewardship. For whatever reason, people never seem to fully understand that real stewardship is a way of life that expresses gratitude for gifts already given.
For many people, their usual ways of expressing any gratitude can be understood only in terms of dollars and cents; yet money hardly expresses the key element of real gratitude. But, because we live in a very money-conscious society, it may be hard for some people to think of gratitude without getting into some expectations of financial remunerations regarding their actions. They must measure all of their actions that way. So, it must be particularly hard for them to express any of their actions in any other way without bringing into the picture some aspect of money, especially if it’s on the basis of “what am I getting back for my investment of money” (or time, energy spent, abilities, etc.). Unfortunately, this is like putting the cart before the horse.
Real stewardship implies an honest appreciation of gifts given, and using these gifts, knowing that they are not originally ours but have only been lent to us for a particular purpose; and it doesn’t expect a further response! So, if we recognize that all of the really true gifts given in life are ultimately from God, and that they are given to serve some special purpose, then somehow we have to take time to measure our stewardship ultimately in terms of our relationship with God. Do we really appreciate all God has given us, done for us, loaned us etc., and just what are these gifts? Do we consider, for example, that life, faith and opportunities to do are some of the gifts?
The Pharisees in Jesus’ time (the orthodox Jews) were often antagonized by Jesus’ teachings on our relationship with God – antagonized enough to join forces with their bitter enemies, such as the Herodians (followers of King Herod and supporters of Rome), in order to trap Jesus in His speech. Together they asked Him questions that would seem to condemn Him, no matter which way He answered, especially when He tried to introduce them to notions of gratitude and thanks.
The most interesting part of Jesus’ answering and avoiding their traps probably was His ability to turn those questions back on the questioners themselves, often trapping them through a type of “non-answer,” thereby accusing them of their own treachery and sinfulness. One of these was in the Gospel of the woman caught in adultery; another was with the bearing Caesar’s image; still, another was the judgment on the vineyard tenants.
The recently heard Gospel of the tenants in the vineyard provides an opportunity to delve into two different notions of Stewardship: a stewardship of life and a stewardship of faith. Here Jesus delivers a passionate and almost merciless response to the repeated failure of the vine. Then the Lord asked His hearers what they think the owner of the vineyard would do when he came back to his vineyard to find it ill-kept and unfruitful. He then indicates how God will respond with judgment, and, in the case of the vine (it got its wish to be left alone), God withdrew – a terrifying picture of one possibility of God’s response.
In the same way, the Lord of our particular harvest will likewise ask each of us – who are the tenants of His gracious gifts – what kind of harvest have we produced in life. Fittingly, we should ask ourselves that question each night as we examine the actions of the day: Have we used God’s gifts to the best of our ability? Have we used them this day to grow closer to Him?
One might expect that, since He spoke glowingly of the Prodigal Son, Jesus would just overlook every wrong done and utter words of total forgiveness. But He doesn’t do that! We should never assume that great love leads to apathy or weakness of will. Just the opposite -for the opposite of love is apathy, not hate.
I sincerely hope that the Lord does not hold us accountable for the harvest of aborted babies that our country produces each year; or the harvest of abused or trafficked women and children; or the harvest of pornography; or the harvest of anti-life legislative actions; or the harvest of more permissive judicial rulings. Unfortunately many of these things are harvests in which even Catholics have a passive or even active part. The Gospel of Jesus challenges each of us to ask for and of ourselves what part we have played in promoting these harvests, or what part have we failed to play in diminishing them. If we are truly appreciative of the gifts God has bestowed on us, we would not want to waste them; we would not abuse them. We would use them for His honor and glory and the good of His people. After all, Jesus assures us that we will be held accountable as stewards of all God’s gifts to us.