Sunday, October 4, 2015

Be Stewards of the Truth

October 4, 2015  

Twenty-Seventh Sunday of the Year B



Be Stewards of the Truth

May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives (Responsorial: Psalm 128).

Do I see myself as the “steward” of precious truth the world has need of? What am I doing to preserve this truth? To share it with others? To implant it in society?

The Entrance Antiphon declares God’s supremacy: “The heavens, earth and stars are your creation: you are Lord of all.” In the Opening Prayer(s) we affirm God’s boundary-breaking kindness and love : ”Your love for us surpasses all our hopes and desires…. Your goodness is beyond what our spirit can touch and your strength is more than the mind can bear.”

We recognize, however, that what we ourselves do plays an essential role in preserving the blessings of creation and extending them to all of humanity. And so we ask God to make us faithful stewards of his kingship: “Keep us in your peace and lead us in the way of salvation.” And because God’s way, the way of “life to the full” sometimes seems impossible to understand or achieve, we continue: “Lead us to seek beyond our reach and give us the courage to stand before your truth.” We are stewards of incomprehensible truth and preservers of humanly unattainable ideals. What we manage is always more than we can grasp. We need to keep growing into our job through persevering “obedient service” in order to arrive at “the fullness of redemption” (Prayer over the Gifts).

In the Responsorial Psalm we ask God to persevere in blessing us so that we might persevere in serving him: “May the Lord bless us all the days of our lives.” God’s commitment is forever. So is ours.

Stewardship of respect

Genesis 2: 18-24 makes a clear distinction between two kinds of stewardship.  First God “brought to the man” all the birds and animals he had made “to see what he would call them.” The right to “name” something is the right to define its purpose, its true meaning and value. And in God’s plan every creature “was to bear the name the man would give it.” It is the responsibility of rational humans first to recognize the Creator’s intentionality evident in the design of every being. Following that, it is the right of humans, as the stewards of creation, to decide, with respect for that intentionality, what use to put things to:

God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion…. over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air and over every living thing upon the earth.”[1]

But there is an exception. As God tells the story, he formed the first woman from the man’s rib, and when God “brought her to the man, the man exclaimed, ‘This at last is bone from my bones and flesh from my flesh.’” This was God’s way of correcting the assumption among primitive (and not-so-primitive) tribes that women were not the equals of men, but, like the animals, just something men could capture, enslave, and use as they saw fit. In God’s story the man sees the woman is made “of the same stuff” that she is; in other words, an equal.

This story gives to humans another kind of stewardship: stewardship of the truth, and of the operative principle that no human being, male or female, is ever to be dominated by another or used for another’s purposes. We are all charged with the responsibility of recognizing every human as “flesh of our flesh.” And we accept the responsibility, as God’s stewards, of calling others to recognize this same truth and to follow this same principle. There is no peace or salvation for life on earth without it.

Stewards of relationship

The Genesis story takes the relationship of man and woman beyond mutual respect. God gives Eve to Adam to be his wife. And the passage ends, “This is why a man leaves his father and mother and joins himself to his wife, and they become one flesh.” This is the proclamation of a relationship so close, so absolute, that it takes priority even over relationship with one’s own father and mother.

This instruction makes us the stewards of a truth that establishes the relationship of husband and wife as the first of all human relationships, with which nothing must be allowed to interfere.

In Mark 10: 2-16, when Jesus is asked about divorce, he first recalls what God originally intended marriage to be. But it did not remain the way God meant it to be. Sin, both personal and cultural, made it sometimes impossible for couples to live together. So Moses, as God’s spokesman, allowed divorce.

Jesus, however, when asked, leaves no doubt about the ideal: God wants every married couple to love each other as their own bodies, and to be as inseparable as the members of one body, because that, in fact, is what they have become.[2]

Before we interpret Jesus’ teaching about divorce and remarriage as a binding law, we need to compare this passage with the radical teaching on poverty that follows it in Matthew and Mark. The passages are parallel in structure.  In both, Jesus 1. answers a question by proclaiming a radical ideal. 2. His disciples question what he says as impossible. 3. Jesus does not back down, but suggests that the ideal (of poverty in Mark; of both marriage and poverty in Matthew) is not humanly attainable, but that by God’s grace it is possible for humans to live on a level that is natural only to God.

The Church has interpreted the teaching about divorce as a law; not, however, the teaching about poverty, which is much stronger in the Gospels. Luke gives the teaching on divorce in just one isolated verse, which—significantly or not—is inserted into a long passage about the use of money.[3]

Whether or not Jesus intended to speak here with the precision of law (if so, it is the only instance in the Gospels), it is nonetheless clear that as Christians we are stewards of an ideal of marriage which Jesus revealed and renewed. We get so caught up in the legalisms of “divorce,” “annulment,” and “remarriage,” and in what is a “sin,” that sometimes we forget to defend, describe and dream of marriage as the ideal relationship God intends it to be — and for which he pours out enabling graces to all who embrace it from the heart.

The fact is, God said, “I hate divorce.”[4]

Not only God, but everyone who has been divorced hates divorce, even if they found relief in it. Father Bernard Häring, one of the most respected moral theologians of modern times, said:

Personally, I would be ashamed of myself if I felt even the slightest temptation to judge divorced and remarried people as “living objectively in a state of grave sin” after they have suffered so much pain and humiliation in the breakdown of their first marriage.[5]

It is time we thought and spoke less about remarriage after divorce as a sin, and more about the ideal of marriage as God designed it. He elevated it through grace to be the image of Christ’s own relationship with his Bride, the Church. To proclaim and promote the ideal—and possibility—of true Christian marriage is a work of stewardship in the world. Lead us to seek beyond our reach and give us the courage to stand before your truth.”

New wine, new wineskins 

The Gospel ends with Jesus saying, “Whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Jesus is not pretending to teach truth that is obvious, or even acceptable to commonsense rational judgment. Much less is it acceptable to minds conditioned by culture to see things the way “everybody” sees them. The only way to accept the teaching of Jesus is to come to it with minds as open as those of little children who have no fixed ideas about the way the world should be. Minds open to wonder, to see and accept everything new. For us adults this means being born again — of water and the Spirit.[6]

Hebrews 2: 9-11 (the letter we will read for the next eight Sundays) tells us Jesus won this new life for us by dying and rising “for the sake of all humans.” By dying and rising “in Christ,” we are new wineskins able to receive new wine.[7]

Insight: What makes my faith — what I know from Jesus —such a precious gift?

Initiative: Each day think of one thing Jesus says that can help you and people you know.

[1] Genesis 1: 24-25.
[2] See Ephesians 5:28-31; 1Corinthians 7: 10-14.
[3] Luke 16: 1-31. Compare Matthew 19: 3-12 with 16-26; and Mark 10: 2-12 with 17-27.
[4] Malachi 2:13-16.
[5] Priesthood Imperiled, Triumph Books (Ligouri) 1996, page 24. See also 119. Fr. Häring was professor of moral theology in Rome for 25 years. He also taught at Yale, Brown, Fordham, Georgetown, and Temple Universities.
[6] John 3:5.
[7] Matthew 9:17.

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