Remember Joseph in the Old Testament? He was the most loved of Jacob’s twelve sons. Some of you might remember the once-popular musical from the ‘70’s, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. No? Regardless, Joseph did have a great coat that Jacob made just to show how much he favored Joseph. Now imagine how this made his eleven brothers feel! Yes, they were quite jealous of that one-of-a-kind, handmade, stand-out coat, but even more, they were envious of their father’s love and favor so openly bestowed upon Joseph.
Eventually, several brothers let this jealousy get the best of them and they plotted to get rid of Joseph. Though their initial intention to kill him changed into selling him to slavers, their plan worked. This long and involved story – and the amazing conclusion - can be found in Genesis, chapters 37 and 39 through the beginning of chapter 46. Take some time to read this with your family over several days or weeks. It’s worth reviewing from time to time to learn new lessons or see different viewpoints.
Skipping ahead in this story, Joseph, having been sold into Egypt, eventually rises through the ranks of servants. According to Genesis 39:4, Potiphar, the chief steward of Pharaoh, “…put him in charge of his household and entrusted to him all his possessions.” Joseph had quite a bit of authority and responsibility! Later, after interpreting Pharoah’s dreams, Joseph is elevated even higher. “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Look, I put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt” (Gen 41:41). As a steward, Joseph was expected to not only take care of everything, but also to increase production and profits.
This makes me think of when I was promoted to assistant manager at my telemarketing job when I was only 19 years old. My responsibilities included opening the office before everyone arrived, conducting interviews, training new employees, and firing underperforming ones – in addition to still making my daily quota! Talk about challenging responsibilities and expectations.
In the New Testament, stewards are mentioned again when Jesus describes the Kingdom of God in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30 or Luke 19:11-27.) In each case, servants (or stewards) are given responsibility for various amounts of money while the nobleman goes on a journey. When he returns, he asks the servants about the money he gave them. As each one reports their earnings, the man rewards them accordingly. Not once, but twice, Matthew’s account gives us the famous line we all hope to hear someday: “Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master’s joy.” (v 21 and 23).
Interestingly, the man is extremely angry with the one servant who did nothing with what he was given. Why? Perhaps we can infer that the man expected an increase in what he entrusted to the servants, and if this parable is about the Kingdom of God, does it mean that God expects us to return our blessings to Him with increase? In the USCCB’s pastoral letter, “Stewardship, A Disciple’s Response,” the bishops answer this question. “Who is a Christian steward? One who receives God’s gifts gratefully, cherishes and tends them in a responsible and accountable manner, shares them in justice and love with all, and returns them with increase to the Lord” (pg. 9). Given this description, how might we evaluate whether or not we are Christian stewards?
Now, let’s backtrack just a bit to last week’s bulletin article, “The Joy of Giving.” Hopefully, we all agree that God is the first and perfect giver. The very first line of the first paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” God gave us life after creating the whole universe! Since God created everything, then everything belongs to God. We are His creation, living only for a short time here on Earth. Therefore, anything and everything we have is His. He has decided what each of us receives – although it is up to us what we do with it!
In a homily a few weeks ago, Fr. Chris Foeckler reminded us that our level of success, accomplishments, or wealth is not a reflection of our own goodness and therefore, we are not being rewarded by God. Examples of Job in the Old Testament and the rich young man in the New Testament show that we can have abundance, but we should not become selfishly attached to it. While the world touts the benefits of amassing wealth (or land, or toys, or fame) we must remember that these things in themselves are not necessarily evil – it's our own desire to hang on to them and define our own personal value by their worth that is problematic.
A good test of determining if we are too attached to something is to have it taken away or to even give it up. My goddaughter has an older sister who, when she was a young teenager, was so attached to her smartphone that she practically ignored everyone in the family. One day, her dad had to repeat his question to her several times and finally got fed up. He grabbed her phone, threw it on the floor and stomped on it, smashing it to pieces. She threw a tantrum that could rival any two-year-old! Just a few months later, she mentioned that incident and said it was one of the best things her dad had ever done for her. She realized that she had been too wrapped up in the phone and learned a valuable lesson in detachment.
Essentially, anything and everything in our lives are gifts from God, and we are expected to take care of them – to be good stewards. This means we continue to foster the attitude of gratitude for all our blessings, be responsible and prudent with what we have, cherish the people in our lives (especially our children – our co-creative gifts from God!) and share our blessings with everyone. When we take this to heart, we find it easy to receive graciously and to share willingly.
Being good stewards means we can be great givers. When Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt, he was in charge of planning through the years of abundance to be ready to weather the years of famine that were to come – as determined by the dreams he interpreted. He was so successful, that when it came time to provide for the people, not only were the Egyptians fed, but also the surrounding communities – including his father and brothers and their families. What a joy it was for them to survive the years of famine, and more importantly, to be reunited as a family.
Being a good steward involves more than just transactions such as making money, paying bills, buying stuff, or donating to charities. When we focus on strengthening relationships with the people in our lives, we become great stewards of the most important gift God gave to us: salvation through Jesus!BACK TO LIST