Heart of Stewardship:
God is the builder, we are the workers
I was reading a transcript of a recent homily by Pope Francis in which he spoke of the notion that God is one "who curtails our freedom" and the way we might prefer to live our lives.
Commentator Rocco Palmo, in a June 17 blog item in "Whispers in the Loggia," explained how the pontiff went on to contrast that image of God with one that shows God to be the source and fulfillment of all life.
Pope Francis' homily caused me to reflect on many of the prevalent messages in our culture here in the U.S. — messages tied to independence and freedom that imply that each of us is in charge of our own lives.
If we align ourselves with these strongly held American cultural values, then we are presented with a fundamental dilemma regarding what the biblical texts say about the Judeo-Christian God. Throughout the Hebrew texts and the New Testament, every story, parable and moral teaching says that God is the ultimate authority in each of our lives. We are his servants — tasked to do his will and fulfill his design and plan — even when it comes to our own lives.
I am reminded of lines from the prayer given in remembrance of Archbishop Oscar Romero — "We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master builder and the worker." God is the master builder. We are his workers. This is the same premise at the very heart of Christian Stewardship.
A steward, by definition, holds and cares for things on behalf of someone else — the master. None of what is in our control or custody is ours to keep — not our lives, or our friends and loved ones, or any possession. To be a Christian steward we must acknowledge God's sovereignty and authority — and conversely our lack of it.
We must give up the popular notion that we are in charge, and that we live for our own gratification and enjoyment. We must refuse the seductive temptation to claim lordship of our own lives. Stewardship demands that we remain mindful that Jesus Christ is the Lord of our lives, and that all we do and say must ultimately serve him.
This is what I call the sacrifice of stewardship. It is thoroughly counter-cultural here in the U.S. and in most of the Western world. Living as a steward means we are not self-directed. We cannot simply do things because it's what we want or desire.
Every decision — every choice — requires us to ask "What is my obligation and responsibility as a steward of God?" The path of stewardship is a daily struggle. Sometimes it's moment-by-moment. It is a process of slowly dying to the self-oriented voice within each of us and becoming more and more attuned to the voice of the Holy Spirit.
It is what I believe Jesus is pointing to when, according to Luke, he urges his followers to "deny yourself and daily take up your cross and follow me." (Luke 9:23) But I've seen a marvelous thing happen when we make this effort.
As we die to ourselves and allow for God's will in our lives, we can discover the joy that comes from living in harmony with the purpose for which we were created. We can find a peace and fulfillment in being what God has called us to be, and doing what he created us to do. In my experience, that's the true source of joy — and that's no sacrifice at all.
(Walt Sears, formerly of the Oakland diocese, is director of faith formation and evangelization at Blessed Sacrament Church, Seattle.)
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