Homily: 27th Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle C
I don’t know about you, but the example that Jesus uses in the Gospel today has always been kind of unsettling for me. The idea that “servitude” could be a permanent way of life for someone is actually rather repugnant to me. Perhaps this is because here, in the United States, we recognized that slavery, as we practiced it, was unjust and so we’ve worked to create a society that recognizes that all persons are created equal, with equal opportunities, and, thus, that there aren’t different “classes” of people in our society. To see an example of this, just look at voting. When I vote, my vote counts equally to President Obama's vote. And the fact that both of us vote for who we want our next leaders to be is further evidence of the equality that we share: because a stratified society would probably only count President Obama’s vote, since he is a member of the “ruling class”, and not my vote because I am of a “lower class”.
Thus, the idea of a society of “servants and masters" has become pretty foreign to us. I mean, we get the idea that, when trying to accomplish a job, one is a boss and one is a worker, but ultimately we still recognize that we're "equal". And so, Jesus' example in the Gospel can unsettle us.
In the Gospel, Jesus seems to say that the master has every right to press on his servant for more work, even after he's been out working rigorously all day. And it's true, he does have that right! This is because, in that system, the "master" was considered to be different than the "servant": the master had his role and place as ruler over household and lands and the servant had his role and place as one who served the master as steward of his household and land. It was unequal, for sure, but nonetheless complementary in its arrangement.
Obviously, when it comes to the human society, our set up, it seems, is the better way to go. As human persons, we are equals; and so, even though there is still the "worker" and "boss" setup, we acknowledge that these aren't different classes of people, but rather people from the same class working in different roles.
When it comes to our relationship with God, however, we have to acknowledge that it doesn’t work in the same way. This is because we aren't equals with God. And so, the "master" and "servant" model actually does apply. God, our "master", provides for us and our needs, while we, his "servants", take care of his household and his land so that he can continue to provide for us. If my master is benevolent, then I can serve him without questioning because I trust that he will always provide for my needs; and I can acknowledge that my service can help him to extend his benevolence even more broadly.
In a real way this is what it means to be a steward. It recognizes that all of the good things that I have in this world have come from my "master". And it recognizes that he gives them to me with the understanding that I will put them to use in the care of his household and his land. My task, therefore, is to work as long and as hard as my master demands because I trust that he will never fail to provide for me. And so you see, I hope, how this is different than slavery. In slavery, as we think of it, the servant is treated as an object for use. Thus, he often serves involuntarily. A steward, however, serves voluntarily and is treated as a person with inherent dignity; but who, nonetheless, is of a different “class” of persons who have a particular role to fulfill.
Thus, as a steward, my faithfulness to serving is simply what I owe to my benevolent master for taking care of me. To ask for recompense beyond what has been provided for me is, thus, to insult my master and to say that I do not believe that his generosity is sufficient for me. And so, in the Gospel, when the disciples ask for more faith, Jesus responds "Don't worry about how much faith you have. Just a little faith goes a long way! Worry, rather, about your faithfulness—that is, about doing those things that you've been given to do day in and day out—because that's where you'll find your true greatness!"
My brothers and sisters, when we recognize ourselves as stewards—that is, as servants of God, our master—then we can respond in service, because we trust that our good God will not leave us wanting, but rather will provide everything for us as long as we remain faithful to him. The proof? It’s right here in the Eucharist: the sacrifice of God's Son, Jesus, which was made for us so that we no longer have to be concerned about our future, because now it is guaranteed in Christ. And so, as we approach this altar today, let us renew our commitment to be faithful stewards of God's many gifts, pledging our trust in the life of peace and rest that has already been won for us by Christ our Lord by going forth from here to serve God faithfully in all that we do.
Given at All Saints Parish: Logansport, IN – October 1st & 2nd, 2016