July 21, 2013 –– Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
One of the foundational elements of stewardship is hospitality. Today’s readings touch heavily on that aspect of stewardship. In a sense we are all “prodigal children,” anxious to be acknowledged, greeted, welcomed, and most of all, loved.
In Genesis 18, today’s first reading, Abraham lays out three of the important building blocks of stewardship. His first plea to the three strangers who approach his door is “please do not go on past your servant.” In other words, stay awhile for you are truly welcome.
Is this how people feel when they enter our church? Or do we barely acknowledge them, and certainly do not encourage them to stay. Abraham goes a step farther by offering them bread and water to make their journey easier. However, he outdoes himself by delivering more than he promised. He orders that the best flour be used for the bread, and that a “tender, choice steer” be readied so that the visitors can have even more than the bread and water he pledged.
In the Gospel story of Jesus visiting Martha and Mary hospitality is still the central message. That story, however, conveys that there is more involved than just treating the guest nicely and providing food and drink and welcome. Martha, of course, becomes angry that Mary opts to “sit at the feet” of Jesus rather than help her prepare and serve. In fact, it would seem that she is angry with Jesus as well that He did not send Mary to help her. Jesus more or less shakes His head at Martha’s words, saying “Martha, Martha. You are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” As is often the case, scholars and theologians have debated what that one “necessary thing” is.
The “necessary thing” is one of the most important factors in leading a stewardship way of life — that is, our relationship with and our trust in the Lord. Without trust in the Lord we cannot do what is necessary to be a good steward. Stewardship is difficult because we often get our priorities awry, allowing the things of life and living to take precedent over what is truly important.
It is interesting that in the second reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians, at least according to some translations, including the New American Bible Revised Edition, which is the official Bible used by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Paul points out that “I am a minister in accordance with God’s stewardship given to me.” To grasp what Paul is getting at we need to explore the roots and meanings of the words he uses.
The word “minister” is originally written with the Greek word diakinos, which actually means “servant.” The word “stewardship” is written in Greek, oikonomia. That word can be broken down as oikos which means “house” and nomos which means “to rule.” Put clearly Paul sees himself as a servant with responsibilities in God’s house. That coincides with our understanding of what it is to be a steward — to have a God-given responsibility for something given us by God, not owned or possessed by us, but merely given to us to be used to serve God and others.