Immersed in Christ: November 15, 2020
THE THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR A
What is Responsible Stewardship?
How would you describe what it means to be a “worthy wife” (Reading I) or a “worthy husband”? What is a “worthy Christian”? Have you ever gotten explicit about it in your own thinking? Are you interested?
The Entrance Antiphon begins “My plans for you are peace and not disaster…..” Believing this, we ask God in the Opening Prayer(s) to “keep us faithful in serving you” because this is our “lasting joy.” God is the “ever-living source of all that is good.” He has made promises. And fulfilled his promises through “our Lord Jesus Christ,” and continues to fulfill them through the same Jesus acting in the Church that is his body by the power of his Spirit poured out in our hearts today.
Because we believe God is faithful in fulfilling his promises, we ask him to “expand our hearts with the joy” they contain. For this we ask him to “help us drink of his truth.” That is what will expand our hearts and motivate us to serve God “in faith and in love,” which is the way to “know forever the joy of his presence.”
Serving God is not static. In every prayer we ask for “forward motion.” We ask him to “expand our hearts” (Opening Prayer), to “increase our love (Prayer Over the Gifts), that we “may grow in love” (Prayer After Communion). To be faithful stewards we have to “invest” what is given to us and make it increase (Gospel).
Jesus said that everyone “trained for the kingdom of heaven” is like the person in charge of a household who knows how to take out and use “what is new and what is old.” That is faithful, forward-looking stewardship.
The Ideal Wife
Most of the qualities of a “worthy wife” listed in Proverbs 31: 10-31 sound like a TV commercial. She is efficient, smart and hard-working. All in her household are well-fed and well-clothed. She makes her husband look good to others. She is a good mother. And the commercials say they have just the products that will help her be all this!
But Proverbs goes farther. The good wife has a soul. She “reaches out her hands to the poor.” She “opens her mouth in wisdom, and on her tongue is kindly counsel.” And Proverbs adds what the commercials never say: “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain. The woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.”
In the Proverbs description, a wife is an ideal steward. To manage what is entrusted to her, she makes wise and responsible use of all of her gifts, both natural and divine. The divine gifts are the ones the commercials and the shallow evaluations of culture do not take into consideration.
These are the ones we should look at.
Scripture gives no description of the ideal husband. (The maliciously-minded might suggest this is because even God cannot describe something that has never been seen on earth!) There is, however, a brief exhortation in Ephesians 5: 25-33 that urges both husbands and wives to live out in their marriage the mystery of Christ living and acting in them both.
The Responsorial (Psalm 128) assures us “Happy are those” Christian spouses who “fear the Lord” — that is, respect and reverence him enough to be conscientious about living their marriage consistently on this mystical plane. To be “good stewards of the manifold grace of God” (1Peter 4:10), we need to examine, be aware of and use all the gifts and powers God has entrusted to us. “Being Christ” to one another is one of them — in and out of marriage.
The shocking thing about Matthew 25: 14-30 is that the master reacted so strongly to the servant who did not invest the funds entrusted to him. He didn’t just reprimand him or fire him. He called him a “worthless, lazy lout” and told his other servants, “Throw this worthless servant into the darkness outside...!” Would you want to work for a boss like that?!
Remember, when Jesus told this parable (and it is a parable, a fictitious story meant to make a point, not a newspaper article or self-portrait), he was nearing the end of his mission. His death was coming soon. (And the end of the liturgical year is approaching as we read this Gospel). It would be understandable if Jesus’ preaching at this time took on a new note of urgency and insistence. Once he dies, it will be up to his followers to continue his work. Jesus will be doing it in them, as in his own risen body, but he will need them to do their part.
Scripture scholars call Matthew’s chapters 24 and 25 the “eschatological discourse.” Jesus is looking ahead to the “end time” and alerting his disciples about what they must do to be “faithful stewards” ready to meet their master when he returns again. All of the parables in this section have a note of warning in them.
The point of today’s Gospel is that we are not “good and faithful servants” (the same word again: pistos, meaning faithful) unless we conscientiously manage what has been entrusted to us as Christians, and manage it to bear fruit. It is not enough to “keep the faith” or just avoid losing the gift of divine life by “mortal sin.” The gift we have received is a gift to work with. If we don’t use it, we lose it!
The master in the parable said to take away from the “worthless” servant what was entrusted to him, and to give it to the one who got the most return on his investment.
For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away.
The truth is, there is no one in the Church who “has nothing.” But if we don’t bother to take Inventory of the gifts entrusted to us, and act as if we had nothing to contribute to the work of the Church on earth, and no part to play in continuing the mission of Jesus, then even what we think we received by being “saved” will be taken away.
A serious thought. Perhaps we should ponder more deeply what it meant when we were anointed with chrism at Baptism and consecrated “kings” or “stewards of the kingship of Christ.” This was a solemn commissioning — an empowerment entailing commitment — and we need to be aware and conscientious about what it commits us to do.
In 1Thessalonians 5: 1-6 Paul tells us we are “not in the dark” about how things will be when Christ returns. “No,” he says, “all of you are children of light and of the day.” There is no reason why the “day of the Lord” should “catch us off guard.” In every Mass the Rite of Communion reminds us that we are a waiting, an expectant people. We “await the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.”
We don’t have to know “specific times and moments.” We are committed to doing the Lord’s work as “faithful stewards” all the time. It is our way of life. For us, every day is the “day of the Lord.” We are always prepared and preparing for his coming — whether he comes at the end of the world, at the consummation of our own lives, or in the movements of heart and inspirations of mind he gives us every day. We are “awake” to what is going on around us, and “sober” — serious, intent — about what needs to be done to bring everything we are involved in under the “reign of God.”
Communion is a “foretaste of heaven,” during which we are able to just rest in abandonment to the Lord who has abandoned himself to us. But it is a brief rest. Almost immediately the presider goes on with the Prayer after Communion, gives the blessing, and says “Go!” But is is never just ”Go.” It is “Go forth, the Mass is ended.” Or “Go and announce the Gospel of the Lord.” Or “Go in peace, glorifying the Lord by your life.” If he just says, “Go in peace,” all understand this is an active peace, the peace Christ gives, which is designed to bring peace to the world. This is our commission as stewards of the kingship of Christ. The Eucharistic celebration ends on this note, as Jesus ended his mission:
See, I am sending upon you what my Father promised; so stay here in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high…. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations… And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age (Luke 24:48-49; Matthew 28:19-20).
How do you understand your baptismal consecration as “king” or “steward of the kingship of Christ”? What do you understand better now?
Develop the habit of being always mindful of your baptismal consecration as a steward of Christ’s kingship. Be intent on using your gifts to bring about change.