October 31, 2004
(During this Mass a brown-out in the Church was taking place.) As we prepare to make some reflections on stewardship, the fact that we don’t have full power on this morning is not an indication that we aren’t paying our bills; in fact, the people of Christ the King have shown extraordinary generosity in their support of the Parish! For which I am very grateful.
The Gospel today tells us the story of Zaccheus. What does he teach us about stewardship and our relationship with God? First, a little about Zaccheus: he was hated. As a tax collector, he was responsible for collecting the taxes that paid the salaries of the Roman army of occupation that was crushing his people. This made him hated as a collaborator. In addition, the tax collector was assigned a certain quota for his area, and if he wanted to make any money for himself, he had to charge over and above that quota. Because the tax collectors had the power of the army behind them, it left them in a place to extort even more from their own people. They were hated by all. Their occupation and their dealing with the gentiles left them ritually impure. They could not enter the Temple, orthodox Jews would not associate with them, enter their houses, etc. Zaccheus endured all this and chose to continue that lifestyle. Then he heard of a Person Who loved everyone, and was known for dispensing mercy and kindness, a Person Who also worked miracles! He heard that this Person was coming and he wanted to see Him. But Zaccheus was ‘altitude challenged’ and could not see him because of the crowd- a crowd which would not have been kind to him, to say the least. So he had to climb a tree in order to see Jesus. Being a government official and such, it was very humiliating to have to climb up a tree in front of all these people in order to see Jesus. But, perhaps the humility that he showed in being willing to do that was an apt beginning for his conversion!
Jesus sees him up in the tree, walks over to him and informs him that He wants to eat with him that day. Zaccheus comes down and welcomes Him with delight. Something in His glance, something in His words, and something in His presence communicated to Zaccheus’ lonely and hated heart that he was loved, that he was precious in the eyes of this Person. Jesus was immediately criticized for going to his house. Zaccheus demonstrates a crucial element in his conversion- he put his money where his mouth was. Realizing in his heart that if this conversion, this new relationship with the Lord Jesus was to be true and authentic; it needed to have practical consequences. He gives half of his wealth to the poor, and also does restitution to those whom he had defrauded.
Zaccheus demonstrates that the heart of stewardship is conversion; it is about the complete surrender of our lives to the Lord Jesus. Stewardship recognizes that everything, the entire universe, belongs to Him. If we haven’t surrendered our lives to the Lordship of Jesus and acknowledged that everything we have is His, then it’s meaningless to talk about it stewardship.
Everyone here, if asked, would probably say that the most important relationship in their lives is their relationship with the Lord Jesus. However, does that primacy get reflected in how we use, first of all, our time? If this is the most important relationship in our lives, then do we spend time with Him every day? Do we give Him the dregs of our time at the end of the day when we’re slipping out of consciousness? Or do we give Him time when we’re at our best, most able to hear Him?
Second, how do we use our talents for the building of His Kingdom? For parents, that is played out primarily in raising your children. To make our families the domestic Church, the first place where the Gospel is proclaimed to our children, the place where the Lord Jesus is known and loved and where He is the center not only of every individual heart, but the center of the family as a whole- this is the goal of our family life. For those who have received the vocation of parent, this is the primary responsibility you have in using your talent for the building of the Kingdom. After investing your talents there, there are a number of other places, both in the parish and elsewhere, where you can invest your talents for the building of the Kingdom. But the priority for every parent is: Jesus first, spouse second, kids third, everything else fourth.
A third aspect of our stewardship is: how do we use our treasure? This area in particular hinges on how much we trust in the Lord Jesus. I suspect we’ve all felt a bit uncomfortable hearing the Gospel in which Jesus commends the poor widow who gives her last two mites, “everything she had to live on.” What do we think happened to her? Do we think she went home and piously starved to death? Or do we think that the Lord took care of her the way He took care of the widow at the time of Elijah? Elijah asked this widow for a piece of bread. She answered, “As the Lord *your God* lives, I have only enough meal and oil to make a bit for my son and myself. When we have eaten it, we shall die.” Elijah replied that, if she gave him something first, the Lord promised that the meal and oil would not run out. This woman was not even a Jew, she was a pagan, as indicated by the fact that she referred to the Lord as “your God” and not “my God.” But somehow, she decided to trust Elijah’s God, and the Lord kept His promise.
She took the chance and trusted the God of Elijah. Do we trust Him as well? How much do we believe that the Lord is absolutely trustworthy, and if we place our trust and hope in Him, He will sustain us? I have no doubt that that widow, who gave her two small copper coins, went home and was able to rejoice in the provision she experienced as a gift from the Savior, Who cannot be outdone in generosity. Zaccheus, when he experienced the validity of his conversion being challenged by the crowd, responded by publicly committing himself to generosity to the Kingdom. He knew instinctively that if his conversion was real, if the Lord Jesus was now actually the center of his life, this should have immediate practical results, and what could be a more practical result than the Kingdom influencing what he did with his wealth? How can we grow in our ability to trust Him? In the first place, we read the Book, we memorize the Book, and we place the content of the Book in our hearts. The more and more that we meditate on the words and actions of the Lord Jesus, the more we see how His Sacred Heart is so marvelously turned toward us, the more we see how He constantly met the needs of those around Him, the more we will be able to trust Him ourselves.
As we surrender to Him more deeply, as we trust Him more and more, the practical question that arises, in relation to this issue of our treasure, is: how much should I give? Mother Teresa of Calcutta was asked this question constantly. She replied: give until it hurts. The problem with that response is that its subjectivity still gives us no concrete response. This is one of those areas in which the charismatic gifts can be especially useful. Several of the gifts are meant to function in such a way as to give us specific concrete guidance on what the will of the Lord Jesus is. If we continue to plead with Him for a deeper and deeper outpouring of the power of the Holy Spirit and His wondrous gifts in our life, we will gradually grow in our ability to use those gifts to help us discern His will. In the meantime we pray, and reflect, and study His wisdom as we attempt to discern this issue. But ultimately, the amount is not the issue. For Elijah’s widow, for the poor widow in the Gospel, for Zaccheus, and for us, it always comes down to surrender and trust. Have we fully surrendered our lives to the Lord Jesus, and, do we trust Him- deeply, fully, and with our entire lives? If we continue to place our selves unreservedly in His hands, as we continue to grow in our ability to trust Him in all things, He will gently guide us on the path He has for us. May He be glorified by all we do!