Stewardship and the joy of sacrificial giving

We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom if, in any place, the Lazarus of the twentieth century stands at our doors. Pope John Paul II


We should all remember the story from Luke’s Gospel: At the gate of the rich man lay poor Lazarus covered with sores who longed to fill himself with the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even came and licked his sores. (Luke 16: 19-22) When Lazarus and the rich man both died, angels carried Lazarus to the “bosom of Abraham” while the rich man was buried and suffered the torments of Hades.

The story of Lazarus and the rich man speaks to us on many levels and conveys the central messages of Christian stewardship. First, it reminds us not to ignore the poor in our midst, at our own doors. And this, of course, through support of Catholic Charities, is one of the primary ministries of the Bishop’s Stewardship Appeal. The story also calls on us to be good stewards of God’s gifts to us. The rich man did not understand that all he was and everything he had was a gift from God. Christian stewardship is about a spirituality of giving and sharing God’s gifts. It is an attitude of selflessness. We should not be selfish with a God who is not selfish with us. The U.S. Bishops’ Pastoral on Christian Stewardship calls on us to share God’s gifts “lovingly in justice with others.”

But the rich man did not share even the scraps which fell from his table with poor Lazarus. How many of us do a little better but still share only our “leftovers” with God. The story of Lazarus should remind us of the principle of sacrificial giving. Christian stewardship is intentional, planned, proportionate giving of our time, talent and treasure. Because everything we have comes from a God who loves us completely, we should offer back to God in thanksgiving the first portion or “first fruits” of what we have been given. Furthermore, our gifts should involve a sacrifice. We do not give back to God the “scraps” from our table, and sharing our treasure should be done in a responsible way. We should regularly and consistently give a percentage of our income to our parish, to the bishop and to the poor.

At this time of the annual Bishop’s Stewardship Appeal, Bishop Baker has asked that we consider giving 1 percent of our income to the needs of the Diocese. For some, such a gift might be too great a sacrifice; for others, it might hardly be noticed. The amount or percentage is less important than the decision and commitment to begin the journey to full stewardship.

And while it is true that our financial contributions serve many important needs in the diocese, the essence of Christian stewardship does not depend on the need of the church to receive. It is based on our need to give.

True stewardship is proactive, not reactive. It is a call to discipleship and conversion. Christian stewardship is an attitude or a way of life. And, when we take the first steps on the journey to full Christian stewardship, we find that it is a liberating experience. We experience the joy of sharing with God the fruits of the many blessings he has showered upon us.

When we feel that we are just ordinary men and women with nothing special to offer our church we should remember that even the 12 chosen by Jesus were ordinary men who failed to understand him on many occasions. But, he picked them to carry the message — ordinary, uneducated, fearful, inconsistent, doubtful men. Stewardship calls for us all to share ourselves, to be a holy people, to take the risk of walking with Jesus. We are all called to be disciples and caretakers of God’s gifts.

We ask that you consider the Bishop’s Stewardship Appeal prayerfully. Begin a conversation in your hearts and homes about your own commitment to Christian stewardship. Start wherever you are now. Make the commitment to begin the journey to full stewardship.

Jim Myers, Ph.D., is director of stewardship.