How’s that for a riddle? The best answer, if you haven’t already guessed it, is love. But the beauty of this paradox is that there can be a number of different answers. Another one might be artistic talent. Ask any artist, and they’ll tell you that their skill for drawing or painting decreases after a few weeks or months of inactivity. But the more they paint, the more their talent grows.
If you hoard it, you’ll lose it; if you share it, it stays healthy. We even see this concept illustrated in nature. For example, the Sea of Galilee teems with fish and other wildlife. However, all the water in this beautiful reservoir is constantly being drained through the Jordan River, which stretches about 60 miles, providing the only fresh water for all of Israel. It finally drains into the Dead Sea – which, unlike Galilee, has no outlet. Consequently, it is stagnant and totally lifeless, continually evaporating into thin air.
The point, in a nutshell, is that the good steward takes care of his or her gifts by giving them away. By doing so, you don’t have less left over; rather, you have more!
There is a story that when Mother Teresa was visiting one of the hundreds of convents she had founded, the Superior of that convent told her, “Mother, we don’t have enough time to do our work with the poor; there’s just not enough hours in the day.” Mother Teresa responded, “Then you need to pray more.” When they added another full hour of prayer each day, they somehow found that they had enough time to do even more for the poor in that city.
The difficulty with this idea – that by giving we receive – is that it’s still a struggle to give. At the very moment of giving, it looks for the entire world like we’ll have less left over. This is especially true when it comes to money. Mathematically, after you write a check to a charity or to the parish, you end up with less money to spend on other things. And yet, the immaterial value of our sacrifice is immeasurable. This is why Jesus speaks so frequently in the Gospels about the spiritual benefits of giving to others. We do have more after we give, but it is simply more of something else – and something better.
When a parish emphasizes stewardship, it isn’t primarily to increase “volunteerism” or to swell the budget. Rather, the first aim of a stewardship parish is always the “good of the giver.” It’s not because the parish has needs, but because we have a need to give. In the end, the model Steward is Jesus, who indeed gave all, even His very life, so that we may have everything.