A fascinating example of stewardship

A fascinating example of stewardship

By Fr. Phil Bloom

Bottom line: We do not give time and money grudgingly; we are building the Body of Christ: We have been entrusted with a stewardship.

Many years ago, in England, three men were pouring into a trough a mixture of water, sand, lime and other ingredients. A passer-by asked them what they were doing. The first said, "I am making mortar." The second: "I am laying bricks." But the third said, "I am building a cathedral." They were doing the same thing, but each looked at it differently. And what a difference that made!

We can see something similar in the way people relate to their parish, why they give. One person says, "Oh! All they do down there is ask for money." The second person replies, "Well, you have to pay the bills." But the third person says, "I am building the Body of Christ." The three are doing the same thing, but what a difference in their attitudes!

Today's Scripture readings reflect those differences. Poor Job says that life is nothing but drudgery: When I lie down at night, I toss and turn - and wonder when morning will come. But when I get up, I am tired and I ask how long until I can get back to bed!

Most people can identify with Job. But St. Paul takes a different approach. Few people worked as hard as him - or went through so many trials. Yet he says this about his work: "I do so willingly...I have been entrusted with a stewardship."

The Gospel Reading we cover today presents a fascinating example of stewardship: St. Peter's mother-in-law. She was in bed, sick, when her son-in-law brought unexpected guests. One of them, Jesus, went to her bedside, took her hand - and she sat up. The fever went away and, quote, "she waited on them."

Now, some people think she would have preferred to stay in bed. That viewpoint says more about us that it does about that wonderful woman. For people in ancient times, hospitality was their top value.* It was the glue that held their society together. For Peter's mother-in-law, hospitality would have been a sacred duty. But there is something more. The text says, "she waited on them." The word for "waiting on them" is "diaconia" - the root of our word "deacon." Jesus had touched her and healed her. To be his "deaconess" would be pure joy, a beautiful honor.

When I was a seminarian, I remember an elderly priest saying, "Since this 'servant' concept came into the Church, I have taken a terrible beating." But he said it with a smile. To serve is hard work - and often, humbling - but being a servant of Christ is joy.

St. Paul illustrates the joy of service. With no fanfare, he says that he is free. (And who of us has greater inner freedom than Paul?) Nevertheless, says Paul, I have made myself a slave to all. For a Christian, freedom is not license to do whatever a person wants. It is freedom for service.

One thing about I like about President Obama is that he is not afraid to use the "s-word": sacrifice. He used the word twice in his short inaugural address. Now, it is easy to become cynical, especially when one hears about people using public money for personal benefit. But, as followers of Jesus, we cannot use other people's failings - or our own - as an excuse. It is clear what he asks of us. And, remember, we are not simply mixing mortar. We are building a cathedral. We do not give time and money grudgingly; we are building the Body of Christ: We have been entrusted with a stewardship.

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