STEWARDSHIP? A MAGIC WORD?
by V. Rev. Fr. James C. Meena
I would like to speak to you today about a magic word: a word that is supposed to, in the minds of some people, solve all the problems of the Church. The word is stewardship. No matter where we go throughout the Christian world, we hear the term Stewardship being used in various forms. Every clergyman that I have ever spoken with seems to have his own set opinion about what the word stewardship means. To some of them it means pledges to the Church, to others it means giving up your time and your energy for the benefit of the Church and the ministry of the Church. To others it means something else entirely. To me stewardship means custodianship and nothing more than that.
God created the world, we didn’t. He created it and He placed it in our hands. He made mankind the rulers of the universe, but not the owners thereof. We are the custodians of all things which God created. Therefore we make a very serious mistake when we believe that we own anything. We have no proprietorship in this world, we are only the custodians of that which God has given to us. We have a nice house, we have money in the bank, we have a big business, good health, a nice family. Are you ill, in pain, suffering, poverty stricken? Whatever you have or may be was given to you by God for one reason or another. Yes, even your suffering is tolerated by God as He tolerated the suffering of Job for a purpose in order that somehow or other we might come to the road to salvation.
Now, when we come to understand that stewardship is not merely proportionate giving, i.e., taking that which is ours and sharing it with God, but rather taking that which is God’s and giving it back to Him, then our whole attitude toward God, life, the Church, our neighbors and our families is altered dramatically. If I believe, for example, that I possess a lot of money and you come to me and ask me to share that money with you and I say fine, I’ll lend it to you while you sign a note and pay me a certain number of dollars a week plus interest, then that is expressing to you my proprietorship. If on the other hand I say to you, you are my brother, I have more than I need. I will give you a portion thereof and you return it to me if and when you can, that is custodianship. That is an acknowledgment that what I have is not mine but God’s. Even more than this, if I take what I have and share it with the poor then I am not only manifesting my custodianship but I am manifesting the express Will of God to use those things which He has put into my care in order to express His Will and to fulfill His Gospel and His Commandments.
I think it all boils down to a very simple study in history. Our forefathers had nothing in the way of material wealth. They had relatively very little. I know that my ancestors come from a poor part of the Middle East. They may have owned a piece of land, a few fig trees, olive trees and they lived from that land. Some people with whom I have spoken were lucky if they ate meat once a year. They were able once a year before Easter to buy a small sheep and raise it and fatten it and prepare it for the feast of the Resurrection and that was it. The rest of the time they ate burghul (wheat), rice and lentils in order to sustain themselves. But they had a sense of custodianship. Somehow or other they shared what they had with each other and with the poor. They realized that it was incumbent upon them to put something into life if they expected to get anything out of life, that what they put into life was more important than what they expected to receive there from.
Our forefathers came to this country with a sense of stewardship. Their sense of stewardship is what caused them to keep the Church alive, despite the most adverse circumstances. Many of them left their businesses, left their lines of work because they were gifted with the ability to read and write a little bit better than their neighbors. They became priests in order to keep the doors of the Church open and the congregation functioning. The Church did survive.
The next generation of priests was a college and seminary-educated generation and it became their lot to restore the Church to her traditions. The coming generations of priests and lay people are called upon to restore to the Church that sense of stewardship, of custodianship that our forefathers felt. The Church was not theirs. The Church was God’s but it was necessary for them to share it and that’s the sense of custodianship that we have.
Now, I want to talk especially to those young people who have sent word to me by various means that they don’t get much out of coming to Church. They don’t understand, or they’re turned off. I want to give you an illustration of what custodianship and stewardship really mean. You have a car. Have you ever tried to drive that car for a year without filling it up with gas, greasing it, oiling it, checking the tires, having it tuned up? There is no way you can make that vehicle move without putting something into it. You have to fill it with gas, you have to invest something into it in order to get some returns therefrom. It’s almost a sure thing that if your car is working well, you turn the starter and it kicks over and you drive it away. You take it so much for granted.
Stop and think what would happen to you if, halfway to work or somewhere on a long trip, you realize that you had forgotten to fill the tank with gas or if you had forgotten to have it tuned up when it needed to be tuned up, if you neglected to have the brakes repaired when they needed to be repaired, then that car would return to you only that which you had invested therein. In reality your automobile gives you a lot more than you invested in it but you take that for granted. You never really appreciate it until you get a flat tire or until it breaks down and you have to give it up for a day or two to a mechanic to repair it.
Well, life is like that. The Church and our relationship to God is like that. We get a lot more out of the Church than we invest in it but we must invest something. God invested a large part of Himself in us, in creating us, in giving us this world and this universe. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the round world.” Everything belongs to Him. Nothing belongs to us. He has invested a great part of Himself in order that we might be His creatures and glorify Him. That requires a sense of stewardship, a sense of responsibility.
Now most of you have heard the parables of stewardship from the New Testament. Remember the parable of the Lord who gave one of his servants 5 talents and another one 2 talents and another servant one? Two of them invested those talents wisely and the third one did not. What was the reaction of the master? Now God has given us gifts, you and me. He has given us a mind with which to think, a mind with which to be turned on, not turned off and we cannot be turned on unless we flick the switch, unless we invest ourselves in understanding what our relationship with God is.
You don’t understand the Liturgy? Why don’t you? Can’t you read? Must the Liturgy appear on television with a narration every Sunday following the Mickey Mouse Club in order for you to get interested enough to invest your time to learn about it? You don’t understand the Gospels! Why not? You read magazines and newspapers and novels, why can’t you take time to read the Word of God and use the mind that God has given you to invest yourself in understanding who God is?
Don’t give me that nonsense of being turned off! If you are turned off, it’s because you don’t want to be turned on! Believing in God requires a conscientious act of will. Once we have activated that will to believe in God we must then activate our will to become His servants, to become His responsible stewards, to understand that we have a responsible custodianship over our lives and that our lives do not belong to us, they belong to Him. I speak not only of our material possessions but of everything that we are: our minds, our body, our spirit, our emotions, everything that we are, belongs to Him. Once we acknowledge that fact, we become worthy, we become aware of our stewardship and once we submit ourselves to Him and fulfill our responsibilities of stewardship, then we become worthy of the name, “servant”.
On that last day when we stand before the judgment seat, we will hear the voice of our Lord saying to us the same words spoken by the Lord of the parable who said to His two wise servants, “Well done, good and faithful servants. Enter thou into the joy of the Lord.”
of all things which
From Word Magazine
Publication of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America