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February 8, 2020
[Resurrection of the Lord Church, Waipio]
Here we are around the midpoint between the Christmas season and Lent. At Christmas we think of gifts being given, and especially the greatest gift of all, the gift of God becoming man in the person of Jesus. During Lent we think of sacrifice, especially the greatest sacrifice ever made, when Jesus, the Lamb of God, offered himself on the cross to take away our sins. One is a joyful season, the other more penitential. Yet both these aspects are important, because stewardship is recognizing the gifts God has given us as well as offering those gifts in a sacrificial way for the service of others.
Solomon understood this interplay of gift-giving and sacrifice. One of his first acts as king when he succeeded his father David on the throne was to offer sacrifice – a thousand burnt offerings. He did not throw a huge coronation ball for himself, but he took something extremely valuable, and to show his gratitude to God and to focus his own mind and the minds of his people on the Giver of all gifts, he made this valuable gift to God Most High. In turn God blessed him with abundant gifts, most notably the gift of wisdom to rule his people. But God’s generosity could not be outdone, and God blessed him with riches and glory and honor among the kings of the earth.
We see Jesus and his disciples who sacrifice themselves in their ministry to the point of exhaustion. Jesus insists that they be good stewards of themselves and spend some time alone in a deserted place so that they could rest and be reenergized for all the demands that were to come. Yet when people find out about their hideaway, Jesus does not scurry them away, but has pity on the crowds who were hungry for his Word, and even though he and the disciples were exhausted, he began to teach them many things. And if we continue reading Mark’s Gospel after today’s designated passage, we will see that this sacrifice of Jesus and his disciples culminates in a miraculous multiplication of gifts as he feeds the crowd of thousands with what seemed to meager.
From today’s Word of God, we can learn many things about good stewardship.
First, we learn the essential role of prayer and worship in stewardship. Solomon was already given the gift of wisdom when he decided to make one of his first acts as king a monumental sacrifice to the Lord. He did not make himself the center of attention, but first focused the attention of the people of Israel on their true King, the Lord God himself. This sacrifice is one that we are called to make as good stewards of the Gospel, making time for prayer – both in the liturgy and in our personal encounters with the Lord – the first thing we do in the morning, the last thing we do at night, and our constant engagement throughout the day. A good steward must first recognize that he or she is not the master, but a servant, and our prayer helps us put that reality into perspective.
We also learn that giving to the Lord generously is part of our worship. Although the Lord does not eat the flesh of bulls or goats, Solomon offered not just a few token animals in sacrifice but a thousand burnt offerings. It is no mere coincidence that when we take bread and wine to offer them on the altar to be transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ, we also take the “bread” you pull out from your pockets and pocketbooks. When we offer the first fruits of our labor to the Lord as a tithe, even though it may hurt, the Lord can multiply its effects so that the work of Jesus in his Church can continue. Paying our Catholic school teachers and our Religious Education Directors, our clergy, and all the other members of our parish and diocesan staffs is supporting the work of the risen Jesus in continuing his teaching ministry to the multitudes. Supporting our Church’s works of mercy in outreach to the hungry and the homeless, to the ill and lonely, to the oppressed and the dispossessed enables the risen Jesus to use his Body, the Church, in bringing healing, light, and hope to all who are in need. The sacrifice of our tithes is itself an act of worship so that we may be more intimately united to the risen Jesus in continuing his ministry of compassion to all.
As the story of King Solomon unfolds after this passage we heard today, we see that this stewardship paid great dividends in the way he was able to govern the people in wisdom from the Lord. It was only when he turned away from the Lord that his governance turned sour as well, but as long as he remained faithful, he could be the kind of steward that the people needed. He was in fact a light to the nations because of the fame of his wisdom, and the gifts he received from the Lord and willingly used for service reached even beyond his borders.
Another lesson of stewardship we can glean from the exhausted Jesus and his disciples still ministering to the crowds who had followed them to their little hideaway is that there are multitudes of people all around us who are hungry for the Word of God. A month or so ago I had a discussion with the Board of our Hawaii Catholic Conference, the public policy arm of our diocese, about the root causes of homelessness. They are legion: everything from mental illness and its causes, to family traumas and abuses, to an economy whose growth is measured in dollars rather than in the well-being of the people who participate in it. Just thinking about this can be exhausting, and we can be tempted to simply withdraw to a quiet place where we do not have to think about these complex issues. While such a retreat can be healthy for us from time to time, Jesus shows us that when we are confronted with the hungers of the world, we are called to engage them, and not to run away from them. Being good stewards, therefore, means strengthening our own families and not neglecting them, so that their inevitable challenges and conflicts do not become a source of trauma but an opportunity for even greater solidarity and love. Being good stewards means engaging in our body politic, which is often informed by other interests than the true good of people. We are called to bring the light of God’s Word so that our culture can become a culture of life and not a culture of death; a culture that respects every individual but that insists on the common good; a culture that brings justice where there is injustice and help to all who are in need. Yes, this can be overwhelming and exhausting, yet if we stay true to our worship and to helping the Word become flesh each day in our world, the Lord will multiply the sacrifices we make and bless them with fruits beyond our imagination.
Gifts are tokens we freely give to show our love, or tokens we ourselves receive from those who want to show us their love. Sacrifice is to make holy all the gifts we receive and all the gifts we give. This bridge between gift and sacrifice reminds us that our greatest wisdom and our greatest joy is to join with Jesus and his faithful disciples in giving our all as stewards of the Gospel.