On Stewardship

by Don Kretschmann, lifelong farmer

A few years ago, I saw the Grand Canyon for the first time. If you’ve ever been there, you know how immense it is! You just keep trying to get it all into a picture—but you can’t. We listened to a park ranger explain that from where we were standing, we could see strata of rock near the bottom of the canyon almost one billion years old. The gray shale strata was 250 million years in the making, and above that another layer of red sandstone was 450 million years old… We were looking at a big chunk of the history of the earth. The ranger explained that dinosaurs were around long enough to see one huge strata of rock deposited. Mammals have been around long enough to see another deep deposit made.

Just prior to our trip, I had read some statistics about the staggering loss of topsoil and other natural resources worldwide. Gazing at the amazing record of sediments in the Canyon, I wondered if mankind would be around for the formation of even the thinnest of rock layers, given his record of land stewardship.

This reading from Proverbs brings to mind a grandeur-not unlike the vista of the Canyon.

Pv 8:22-31 "Thus says the Wisdom of God:"The Lord begot me, the first born of his ways, the forerunner of his prodigies of long ago; From of old I was poured forth, the first, before the earth. When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no fountains or springs of water; before the mountains were settled into place, before the hills, I was brought forth; While as yet the earth and the fields were not made, nor the first clods of the world. "When he established the heavens I was there, when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep; When he made firm the skies above, when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth; When he set for the sea its limit, so that the waters should not transgress his command; Then was I beside him as his craftsman, and I was his delight day by day, playing before him all the while, playing on the surface of his earth; and I found delight in the sons of men."

Preceding and amidst the scope of creation—a purpose, a plan, a method! Wisdom—" the first-born", "the forerunner", "poured forth at the first". Proverbs says that this wisdom was there throughout creation. Wisdom-- the craftsman-- delighting, playing. And finding "delight in the sons of men. " It is amazing, truly amazing to me, that God allows us free reign with all the wonders of his creation. God delights in the works his creation, works of his love. Day by day he finds what he created is "good". And then…. he trusts us with it! The whole shebang—he trusts us with. Is this wise? This is like a parent trusting his 16 year old in a new car with all the options!

From the most ancient times and in all cultures, humans have struggled with the wise use of what we have been given.

Lk. 12:35-48 "Who, then, is the faithful and prudent steward whom the master will put in charge of his servants to distribute the food allowance at the proper time? Blessed is that servant when his master on arrival finds doing so. Truly, I say to you, he will put him in charge of all his property. But if that servant says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming.’ And begins to beat the menservants and the maidservants, to eat and drink and get drunk, then that servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely… Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more."

In analyzing stewardship, the first thing one sees is that stewardship is not mastery. It is not that the steward uses wisely what belongs to him. The steward only exercises temporary control over that which belongs to the master. In the reading from Luke, the good steward is simply the one who does the master’s will. Here—guarding the house, and distributing the food properly. There is a whole range of God’s gifts over which we are to exercise stewardship—our own personal talents, deposits of faith, wisdom and knowledge, all of creation… As good stewards we are to guard them from diminishment, and to use them to nourish life. So if we have been given intellect, stewardship would say to develop this gift for the good of all, not getting drunk on the liquor of pride or misdistributing the fruits of intellect. Stewardship would not diminish this gift by avoiding educating oneself or by abusing drugs. Nor should we use our cleverness to cheat others or to create bad things. If we’ve been given wealth, stewardship says not to waste, but to use it to bring about more abundance for all. If we’ve been given faith, stewardship says not to bury it with sinfulness and hypocrisy, but to share it with others. And the highest gift of all which we have been given is a share in God’s very life—the gift of love. Because of this love, everything is. We most ignore stewardship when we simply don’t use this gift.

The Biblical reference to stewardship is set in the context of a common home--the master, the good steward, and the men and maid-servants. It seems to me that our stewardship needs always to be set in a similar social context. Loving care, justice, unselfishness, and wisdom, I think, are all components of good stewardship. Maybe it’s a little difficult for us to see the Biblical social context of stewardship today. We don‘t have large interdependent households, servants, and slaves. But the basic principles still apply to neighbors, communities, businesses, our environment, and society. How is the man-servant in Luke’s Gospel different from our employee? Or the woman-servant different from the cashier at Ko-go? Is the "property" of the master essentially different from our common resources—oil under the sea or the air we breathe. And I would extend stewardship along a time dimension as well. It also includes those who will come after us. Otherwise we have inter-generational tyranny—needlessly consuming non-renewable natural resources, leaving debts for our grandchildren to pay, or leaving a despoiled world. And this isn’t just about the material things—we can leave a legacy of imitated behavior for our children as well. I’m sometimes painfully reminded of this when I realize I’m acting in the same way my father did, or when I see my children imitating my flawed behavior.

I seek inspiration for proper stewardship in the Eucharist and the Eucharistic prayer: "Take these gifts and make them holy." I regularly try to place all life's gifts on the altar to be made holy. Placing everything with which we are blessed, into God's hands to be used as he sees fit is the essence of stewardship. Asking that something be made holy is to take that which has been placed at the mercy of our free will and choosing to recognize it's highest potential--the expression of divine love. Our use of these sanctified gifts is then truly eating his body and drinking his blood--internalizing what has been made holy and given us out of love--his grace and Spirit living in us. This is what the Incarnation, and Eucharist is all about—Christ not above the world but in the world.

Stewardship is finding that purpose and plan which our Master has had from the beginning of time for the gifts he has given us. This wisdom gives Him delight.

Coming back to the sweeping vista of time of which I caught a glimpse at the Grand Canyon. I’m an optimist and a believer. I cannot think that all of this wonderful creation and we, with whom God has shared his very life, will come to naught. I really want to be there, to see how it is that we humans will live up to our endowments. And see how it will come to pass that we will be his good stewards in whom he delights.

--Don Kretschmann, lifelong farmer

257 Zeigler Rd.

Rochester, PA 15074