Monday, June 04, 2007

Monday in the 9th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
Stewards of the Lord’s Vineyard

Readings: Tobit 1:3; 2:1a-8; Psalm 112:1b-2, 3b-4, 5-6; Mark 12:1-12

It should be quite clear to anyone open enough to appreciate the truth that we live in a world where there is an enormous gap between the rich and the poor. The best means to narrow that gap is probably a matter for economists and politicians to decide. But as Christians, we might ask ourselves what are the necessary dispositions that might motivate each of us to do our part, however small, in narrowing that gap.

Two principles from the Social Teaching of the Church come to mind, principles which seem to contradict each other. On the one hand, rejecting the Marxist approach, the Church affirms each individual’s right to private property. On the other hand, however, in stark contrast to a purely capitalist approach, the Church also speaks of the universal destination of goods – in other words, the belief that all the good things of this earth are ultimately to be directed to the common good. Obviously, these two principles need to be held in tension if we are to find the right motivation to combat global poverty. But what might such a healthy tension look like? Our readings shed some light on the issue by inviting us to reflect on the meaning of stewardship.

The parable of the vineyard shows us what failure to live the tension can look like. Forgetting that they are merely stewards of the landowner, the tenants manage the vineyard as though it is their own possession. They exclude others from enjoying its fruits. And their greed leads them to violence and murder.

In contrast, the first reading presents us with the story of a man who obviously appreciates what it means to be a steward. Tobit is very conscious of the fact that he belongs to a nation in exile. Even though he is lucky enough to have food on his table, his heart goes out to those who have none. He doesn’t even begin to eat before seeking someone to share his meal. And when he hears about a person who has been murdered and whose corpse has been left in the market place, he leaves his table to give the person the dignity of a decent burial.

What is it about Tobit that moves him to do all this, even at the expense of being ridiculed by others? Clearly he could quite easily sit down to enjoy his own meal without being in the least affected by the misfortunes of those around him. Yet his feelings and his actions indicate to us his deep appreciation of the bond between him and the others who live with him in exile. He realizes that theirs is a shared misfortune, that others have a claim on him, on his time, his energy, and his goods. Even more, he also realizes that ultimately all that he is and has belongs not only to him but to God, who always hears the cry of the poor. Tobit’s actions demonstrate that he is someone who knows what it means to be a true tenant of the Lord's vineyard. He is a man who fears the Lord.

Sisters and brothers in a world marked by an obscene contrast between blatant consumerism and abject poverty, how are we being called to be responsible tenants and stewards of the Lord’s vineyard?

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