Entrusted With a Stewardship

(Homily for Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B)

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!

For sure, most of us can identify with Job. But St. Paul takes a different approach. Few worked as hard as he did - or went through so many trials. Yet he says this: "I do so willingly...I have been entrusted with a stewardship."

Today's Gospel 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 subsided and, quote, "she waited on them."

Now, some think she would have preferred to stay in bed. That viewpoint, however, 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 was a sacred duty. But there is something more. The text says, "she waited on them." The word for "wait 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 few have greater inner freedom than Paul. Nevertheless, says Paul, I have become a slave to all. He knew that freedom is not license, doing whatever strikes a person's fancy. Real freedom means service, self-giving.

One thing about I like about President Obama - he is not afraid of the "s-word": sacrifice. He said it twice in his short inaugural address. Now, it is easy to become cynical, especially when we hear about the super-rich taking money from public coffers. It is easy to use other people's failings - or even our own - as an excuse. Still, as followers of Jesus we cannot do that. What he asks of us is clear. 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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*Hospitality was a basic virtue in the Bible. You can see also the supreme importance of hospitality in the Odyssey, a foundational work of Greek and Western civilization.

General Intercessions for Fifth Ordinary Sunday (from Priests for Life)

Spanish Version

From the Archives:

Fifth Sunday, Year B, 2012: I Do So Willingly
2009: Entrusted With a Stewardship
2006: Eros and Agape
2003: What a Lot of Work!

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And on the other side of the Atlantic:

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