The readings this week from the Book of Sirach offer a marvelous teaching on stewardship. (see Sirach 35:1-12) It expresses a “fullness” in the approach of making one’s entire life an offering to God. This, in my estimation, is what a true spirit of stewardship seeks to accomplish and put into action. Just listen to some of these sacred teachings:
To keep the law is a great oblation… This says it all! Oblation is another scriptural term for “making an offering”, or even “sacrifice”. As we know, Jesus summed up the law and the prophets in these words: Love the Lord you God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. To do so is to “sacrifice a peace offering.” This attitude and practice are at the heart of stewardship.
Another essential part of stewardship is charity. “In works of charity, one offers fine flour, and when he gives alms he presents his sacrifice of praise.” Charity is an essential virtue of the Christian life. In many ways, charity is the root of all the other virtues. Charity is the essential spirit of stewardship, which directs the use of our energy, all our efforts towards the good of “the Other” and others. Charity is the consistent practice of offering our best.
“To refrain from evil pleases the Lord.” Once again, an overarching spirit of stewardship is the desire to please the Lord in every decision and action of life, including decisions to refrain from anything that would offend the Lord and His Law. To make an offering of one’s life to the Lord, would embrace the principle of offering only what is good, as only the good is pleasing. To offer anything less, or even to offer anything “evil” would be offensive, and of no value.
“Appear not empty handed before the Lord…the just one’s offering enriches the altar and rises as a sweet odor before the Most High.” These words express beautifully how God sees and receives everything offered in love in His honor. Every act of our life, every decision, every kindness enriches God’ Kingdom! Thus the book of Sirach goes on to say: “Be not lacking in freewill gifts.”
Then, we hear about the attitude that is to underlie our giving: “With each contribution show a cheerful countenance, and pay your tithes in a spirit of joy. Give to the Most High as he has given to you, generously according to your means.” As we grow in our understanding of God’s infinite goodness, we will grow in such generosity and cheerfulness. All we have and are is “gift”. Thus, a spirit of stewardship calls us to make a gift of self to God and others. We all have different gifts and different capacities. Thus we are not all asked to give the same “amount”, be we are each called to make an equal “sacrifice”…according to our “means”.
As we grow in our practice of generosity, and making our life an offering to God, we quickly learn that God will not be outdone in generosity. Thus, Jesus tells St. Peter in Mark’s Gospel: “there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother of father or children or lands for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age: houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.” (see Mark 10:28-31)