The Office of Stewardship
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it.”
A friend has shared with me two instances where he was asked to serve the Church and in both cases his first reaction was not positive. Feeling like he was already doing so much coupled with a feeling of being very busy generally and topping it off with some sense that he was inadequate to the request all came together into a “Are you kidding me?” reaction. But because my friend is a committed disciple of Jesus, he didn’t stop there. In both cases, he took the time to share these feelings and thoughts with God in prayer and in both cases ended up embracing the opportunities placed before him with joy and gratitude.
I share his story because I think it reflects an almost universal experience. Sooner or later we all sometimes feel like God is asking of us more than we can give. And in these times we are tempted to refuse the request without much thought. But I think the story of the multiplication of the loaves in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt. 15:29-37) can challenge us to not be too quick to dismiss the request with a no. In the story, Jesus’ heart, moved with pity for the hunger of those who have flocked to see him, asks the disciples for help to feed them. They reply, “Where could we ever get enough bread in this deserted place to satisfy such a crowd?” In other words, they, like my friend (and like us), feel overwhelmed by Jesus’ request. They feel inadequate and must have thought he was asking too much!
But Jesus persists. He asks, “How many loaves do you have?” The disciples give Jesus the few loaves and fish that they have. He takes them, gives thanks, “broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds.” Like my friend, the disciples do not simply walk away from the request disgusted. Instead, they share what they have with Jesus, meager though it is.
Often times, we hesitate to share with Jesus our own “loaves” because we are convinced they are not enough or not worthy of Him. Sometimes we feel this way about sharing our angers, our hurts, our disappointments and our feelings of inadequacy. However, if we follow the example of the disciples, if we have the courage to offer the situation, our thoughts, feelings and concerns as well as our talents (small though they may seem to be) to Jesus, we give Him the opportunity to first break them open and then to multiply them.
In the story, Jesus then gives the bread back to the disciples to distribute to the people. I see a parallel with the experience of my friend. After taking the time to pray over these requests — giving Jesus what he had, even if it was only frustration, anger or a feeling of inadequacy — Jesus returned it to him transformed. And then my friend was able to give of Jesus’ abundance to fulfill the demands made of him.
During a homily I heard in response to this gospel passage, the priest highlighted for us the important fact that Jesus breaks the bread. Often times we, like the bread, are “broken” by the situation. But it is precisely in the brokenness that Jesus performs the miracle. When we approach Him with all humility, He has the power to transform us.
And finally, it is important to note that Jesus returns the transformed gift to his disciples to distribute. Jesus desires to work through us. This is why the US Bishops in their statement on Stewardship define stewardship as, “receiving God’s gifts gratefully . . . and then returning them with increase.” He desires for us to fully participate in both the receiving and the giving of his abundant gifts.
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