Faithful stewards bear responsibility for how they use their possessions
John the Baptist came ahead of Jesus to lay the groundwork for Christ’s ministry. Today we will look at the stewardship of one’s possessions through the teaching of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.’”
John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him…Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham….And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages” (Luke 3:3-8, 10-14).
In the Old Testament, the prophets Isaiah (40:3) and Malachi (3:1) speak about how God will some day send a messenger to prepare the “way of the Lord” by straightening the paths of God’s people.
• The “way of the Lord” characterizes how people are to “walk” in the world: their actions should reflect the will of God.
• God’s messenger will proclaim to the people how they are to amend their actions, in order to walk in the way of the Lord.
• The authors of Matthew (3:3), Mark (1:3), Luke (3:4) and John (1:23) pick up this motif from Isaiah and Malachi, and assign to John the Baptist this role of being God’s messenger who will straighten the ways of God’s people to prepare them for the arrival of God’s messiah.
• Luke also adds Isaiah 40:4-5 onto the quotation of 40:3 found in Mark and Matthew (Luke’s quotation is taken from the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint, rather than from the original Hebrew text).
• Throughout his Gospel, Luke portrays Jesus as coming into the world to “level the playing field;” the ministry and teaching of Jesus set all people on an equal footing. Luke’s quotation of Isaiah 40:4-5 foreshadows this theme: “Every valley shall be filled [i.e. the poor and lowly will be raised up], and every mountain and hill shall be made low [i.e. the rich and powerful will be brought low] and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”
• Luke’s theme of God’s “leveling the playing field” was first introduced in the Magnificat, or Song of Mary, in Luke 1:46-55, including vv. 52-53: “He [the Lord] has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Apparently, in the first century, some Jews were confident that their ethnic Jewish lineage guaranteed them a place in God’s salvation of Israel. “We have Abraham as our ancestor” they say. According to John the Baptist, ethnicity alone will not suffice in God’s eyes. The stewardship of our possessions is better evidence that we are bearing fruit worthy of repentance.
John the Baptist identifies the exemplary stewardship of possessions in several specific contexts:
• Those with adequate clothing and food should share their plenitude with others.
• Tax collectors are to take only what tax is due.
• Soldiers should accept their wages without complaint and refrain from forcing money from others.
Questions for Reflection
• Lent is a traditional season for reflecting on your life and amending the way you live. In what ways might you need to “straighten your paths” in connection with your stewardship of possessions?
• For those of you who work to earn a living, what are your stewardship
responsibilities with regard to particular assets of your employer?
• In what concrete ways do you share your personal possessions with those in need?
O God of all creation, who gave humankind the responsibility to till and keep the earth: enlighten me to know your will for the faithful use of my possessions, that the needs of others may be met, and your creation preserved for future generations.