Roy B. Zuck shares a story about a beggar who asked for alms from a rich lady. She gave him a coin saying, “This is more than God has ever given me.” The beggar said, “O Madame, everything you have has been given by the Lord.” “True,” said the lady, “but God has not given it to me, it remained His all the time. What I have is only a loan from God. I am only a steward of God.”
In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis refers to the same idea of stewardship in terms of God’s gift of life and everything in it. He says: “Every faculty you have, your power of thinking or of moving your limbs from moment to moment, is given you by God. If you devoted every moment of your whole life exclusively to His service, you could not give Him anything that was not in a sense His own already.”
Indeed, God has entrusted us with so much: our lives, our families, our friends, our talents, the years of our lives, our resources and our wealth. The big questions are: How have we beenreceiving what God has given us? How have we been using and dealing with these God-given gifts? For every gift, there is a corresponding responsibility.
Stewardship is the main theme of the parable of the vineyard today. It is the story of a landowner who planted the vineyard, constructed a protection around it and put up a winepress for the time of harvest. He then leased the vineyard to his tenants, entrusting everything to them, and left for another country.
Having given the tenants everything they needed to produce a good harvest, the landowner expected his just share of a fruitful yield. But the tenants had not been good and faithful stewards. Aside from failing to give the landowner his just share, the tenants harmed and killed his servants first and then killed his son when they were sent to collect the landowner’s share. The tenants thought that with the servants and the son gone, they could seize the vineyard as their own.
In its original context, the parable of the vineyard is a story about the entire salvation history. God inaugurated His Kingdom on earth and first sent the prophets to call the Israelites to be faithful to their covenant with God. But the people resisted, rejected and killed the prophets. Finally, the Father sent his only Son Jesus invested with full divine identity and authority. But the leaders of the people also rejected him and put him to death.
The parable recounts the passage from the Book of Psalms about the rejected stone becoming the cornerstone (cf. Ps118:22-23). In the same way, just as the vineyard in the parable is taken away from the tenants and given to those who would be better stewards, the Kingdom of God will also be taken from those who have rejected the prophets and the Sonof God. Instead, the Kingdom will be given to those who will produce fruits by living according to the Kingdom values and the teachings and examples of Jesus and the prophets.
Indeed, in life what has been given can be taken away if we are not deserving and if we do not produce the expected fruits. This is a theme that reverberates in a lot of parables that have something to do with stewardship of God’s gifts, foremost of which is God’sreign in our lives and in the world.
In the Bible, when we talk of stewardship, we also talk of responsibility, fruitfulness and accountability. We must take intentional responsibility for everything that God has given us. What is given gratuitously must truly and gratefully be received.
But it is not enough to be grateful for what the Lord has given us; we must also be responsible and fruitful. Eleanor Torrey Powell, the great American film actress and tap dancer, expressed this beautifully when she said, “What we are is God’s gift to us, what we become is our gift to God.”
“Fruitfullness” here must not only be seen in terms of becoming more and better personally. Fruitfulness is also relational, interpersonal, social and meta-personal. It will be too selfish to only think of and work for our personal development and growth in different aspects of life without contributing to the development and betterment of others and of the world.
What we have achieved in life remains selfish and limited and will not be complete until it contributes to the betterment of others and their lives. What God has given us are not just for ourselves; they are also intended to be used and harnessed for the good of others and of the world. Randy Alcorn says, “Christians are God’s delivery people through whom he does his giving to a needy world. We are conduits of God’s grace to others.”
We take note also that the Bible uses the term fruitfulness instead of productivity. Fruitfulness is a spiritual reality and it has something to do with the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in the world. St. Paul, in his Letter to the Galatians, speak of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). These fruits are to be concretized in the lives and deeds of Christians who are Spirit-filled. From the Christian perspective, one may be productive in terms of economic and other world achievements, but he or she may not necessarily be fruitful. As Christians, we are asked to be fruitful more than to be productive.This is the message of the saints of God.
The parable also makes it clear that we will have to make an accounting for everything that God has given us. Our God is a jealous God. While what He gives us are free, He asks for an accounting in the end. He has not given us gifts just to be wasted in the end.
The different parables on stewardship, including today’s parable, make it clear that it will not work if we only give back what God has given us. We have to give back double, triple or, in Biblical terms, a hundredfold out of the fruitful responsibility that we have exercised for ourselves, for our God-given gifts and for others. At the moment of personal accounting at the time of our death and in the final accounting tocome at the end of time, we hope to hear the Lord tell us: “Well done, my good and faithful servants. Since you were faithful in small matters, I will giveyour great responsibilities. Come, share your Master’s joy” (Mt 25:23).
But we do not have to wait for the personal accounting at the hour of our death and for the general accounting at the time of Parousia, from time to time, as we know it, life asks us to account for what the Lord has given us. One can lose his or her work if he or she does not do well out of neglect, incompetence and laziness. A school may reject us to re-enroll if we do not meet its academic and behavioral requirements. We can lose the love of others, including family members, if we do not heed the advice given on the ABS-CBN TV show Be Careful with my Heart. If we are not careful with the hearts of others, we can hurt them and lose their love for us. We can lose our Christian faith if we do not nourish it. The list is limitless and we know that the message of the Gospel parable is so true on a daily basis.
Neglect and irresponsibility are only two of the reasons for losing what we have already been gifted with. The parable also shows another dark reason: violence to others. The landowner’s servants and son were beaten and killed by the tenants. To harm, to destroy and to do violence to what God has given us are even worse ways of losing what we have been gifted with.
Sometimes, we hear someone tell another whose life or family has deteriorated in many aspects: “What have you done to your life?” “What have you done to your family?” Indeed, in life we do not only neglect persons and things; we can also do a lot of harm to them.
A number of years ago, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines issued a pastoral letter on the ecological problems in the country. The pastoral letter is entitled: “What is Happening to our Land?” This is not purely an ecological question; it is a deeply spiritual question. It is a question of stewardship, responsibility and accountability before God our Creator and before our present and future generations.
Someone said that God is actually limitless in His patience and kindness to us. He is always giving us new opportunities and new beginnings to be truly responsible, fruitful and accountable. This is so true. But the problem is that, as human beings, we are limited and are not infinite. Our time is limited. Our human and earthly existence is bound by space and time. We are historically conditioned and situated. We are only given a number of years.
During the Martial Law years, the student activists had a challenging motto for social and political involvement. “Kung Hindi Ngayon, Kailan Pa?” “If Not Now, When?” I think this is not only a political motto. It can also be used as a spiritual and evangelical motto. “Kung Hindi Ngayon, Kailan Pa? “If not Now, When?” If we do not truly decide now to live for God and His ways, when will we decide to do this? If not now, it may be too late.
St. Francis of Assisi said, “Let us begin again for until now we have done very little.”
Randy Alcorn also said, “What you do with your resources in this life is your autobiography.” I dare say,“What you do with God’s gifts to you is your spiritual autobiography.” It isthe story of how you have gratefully, responsibly, fruitfully and accountably lived the one and only gift of life that God has given you.