We are in the midst of an amazing time of self-reflection. We have the opportunity to hold up a mirror and consider how closely our image reflects that of a professed follower of Jesus. It’s difficult because we know that like Jesus, we are tempted to make decisions that serve ourselves and make our own lives easier. Lent is our call to repentance and conversion.
One of the first temptations of a Christian steward is to put time, efficiency and productivity before matters of protecting the earth. How easy is it for us to use disposable silverware and Styrofoam products? No one has to do dishes and we can get back to work, visiting, relaxing, etc. After all, time is money, right? How are we to address the larger questions of stewardship of the earth that Pope Francis challenges us to if we are unable to do the minimal?
If we believe what the inspired word of God and our church teaches, we acknowledge that the Creator is sovereign over this world which supports all life for all generations and we are only its trustees. It is impossible to be pro-life without being pro-earth.
The second temptation of the everyday Christian steward is basic ingratitude. We know that much of how we live our lives as disciples of Jesus is based on understanding how we are truly blessed. Sometimes we believe that others, whose lives appear to be perfect, should be the grateful ones and we are forever comparing ourselves and living out of those comparisons. We lack the true joy of a follower of Jesus and are unable to share or be generous with others.
Our doctrine of redemption tells us that through the incredible love and sacrifice of Jesus, we have all been saved and redeemed. Even when we are carrying our personal crosses, Jesus’ unfailing love for us is the light that continues to shine in the darkness. For Christians, this is the stepping stone for our lives of prayer, service and sharing.
The third temptation of a Christian steward is to forgo hospitality and opt for judging. How open am I to truly see and hear the people that God has placed around me? Do I understand how peoples’ diverse situations are an opportunity to experience Jesus in a different way or would I rather pass judgment and move on? We know that modeling Jesus’ love and compassion will bring others to him and help to build the kingdom. It is the most important thing we do as baptized Christians.
The fourth temptation is not to acknowledge the urging of the Holy Spirit to step up and generously serve in our parishes, communities and world. God taps us on the shoulder and sometimes uses others to invite us. So often we say, “I’m too busy,” “I have children,” “I’m retired,” “I don’t want to commit.” It is easy to forget that our time and talents are gifts from God to be used in his service and for his glory. It is through our hands and feet that God will change the world.
The fifth temptation has to do with God’s money, i.e., the financial blessings placed in our care. Our Lenten practice calls us to “give alms” during this holy season but our baptism challenges us to a lifetime of generosity. We have been uniquely created and wired with a need to give. The fruits of generosity are freedom and joy which our loving Creator wants for us. There will always be the temptation, which is based in a lack of trust to not return abundantly back to God what was placed in our care. We worry.
The first two temptations come from our doctrines of creation and redemption, respectively. The last three come from our doctrine of sanctification or our personal call to holiness. Sometimes we only understand holiness in regard to prayer, worship and moral living (Ten Commandments). We forget that with every moment, decision, response of our lives, we have the opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to the call. In our current culture, the temptations have never been greater and unlike Jesus in the desert, we can be held hostage.
So what is the answer? If you are like me, staying grounded in Jesus Christ through prayer is key. I’m truly too weak without it. For those of us who have an automatic response, i.e., “I’ve always done it that way,” we need to re-evaluate our decisions and ask the question of God, “What is it you will have me do?”
Otto is Stewardship and Special Projects director for the diocesan Stewardship and Pastoral Services Department.