by Maurice Hamel
"You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share in your master's happiness!" - Matt. 25:21
At the end of our days when the fruits of our labor will be judged, we all long to hear our Lord say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" Increasingly, we are hearing today a call to conserve the natural resources, which God has provided for us and placed under our care. Conservation is important so that these things will be available for future generations. It is also simply a sign of respect for their Creator, who has made all things. However, in our desire to be faithful stewards of what God has entrusted to us, we need to determine what He has specifically told us He expects of us, rather than assuming that we can instinctively know His thoughts and His ways.
The parable of the "talents" in Matthew 25, from which the phrase "Well done, good and faithful servant!" is taken, is the story of a man who entrusted his property to his servants. (So far, so good. This sounds like us.) Jesus tells us, this man distributed his possessions to each of his servants according to their ability. "After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled his accounts with them." To those who had put to work what was entrusted to them and returned to him a gain, he gave those words of praise. However, the one who returned his masterís possessions exactly as he had received them was punished severely as a "wicked and lazy servant" because he had not used what had been entrusted to him.
If you will note the words of that servant in Matthew 25:24-25, he had no love for his master. He was afraid of him. He seems to not have really understood what his master had expected of him. Yet the other servants did and were welcomed in to share their masterís happiness.
What was Jesus' purpose in telling this parable? What is it that we are being entrusted with and what gain are we expected to show? While the parable specifically refers to money, most Bible commentaries apply its principles to how a person make use of their abilities. But consider how this teaching applies our having been entrusted with stewardship of the physical world we inhabit.
If we desire to be found good and faithful stewards of God's creation, we too must understand what our Master expects of us. Parables about the workings of the Kingdom of God, such as this, are given to us to help us understand Godís perspective on things that we would otherwise not know. This parable clearly praises those who put to use what was entrusted to them. In contrast, the "worthless" servant was the one who had simply maintained what he received, deriving no additional benefits, not even interest from the bankers.
If this is how we are to be judged for our stewardship of the resources that God has provided to us, we need to prayerfully consider our current attitudes about the nature of conservation and the importance we place on conserving "pristine" places. I am concerned that there are many who seek preserve the blessing of resources that God has given us, as a sort of museum piece, with the mistaken expectation the He will be pleased with such a "show of respect" for Him. While it is certainly correct to protect God's creation from those who act out of greed and ungratefulness, is the push to "preserve" more and more land "exactly as God created it" the proper way to show our respect for our Creator? Or is the measure of our stewardship whether we have been faithful in doing the things we have been told to do? That parable is followed by a parable where those who fed the hungry, welcomed the stranger and cared for the sick were given rewards, with Jesus concluding "whatever you did for one of the least of theseÖ you did for me." (Matt.25:40) This is how we will be judged for our handling of the resources we have been given.
The voices of some religious leaders are increasingly being heard regarding public policy issues relating to stewardship. And increasingly, their focus is on preventing "any" disruption of pristine areas, rather than on how it might be used to fulfill our responsibility as stewards who were entrusted it by the Creator. Are these concerns about the future of our environment based on a respect for God and His creation, or are they expressions of fearfulness, like those of the servant in Jesusí parable? Is their assumption correct, that we have begun to reach the limits of the blessings that God is able to provide us in His creation, or have they merely forgotten the admonition in Proverbs 3:5 not to "lean on your own understanding"?
If we long to be received as good and faithful servants, it is essential that we understand what the Master expects of us, We have His promise that our reward for obedience will be that all these other things that we worry about will be given to us. (Luke 12:22-31)
© Maurice Hamel
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