Why do you own the things that you own? We all work hard to own things. We have banks and locks and fireproof safes so that we can hold on to the things that are ours, but why? What is the purpose of owning something. A two-year old has an answer: "Mine!" It is not so important why. A more mature person would say, "I own things so that I can use them." This is a good answer, but we Christians reject that answer. We Christians believe in stewardship.
The concept of stewardship is that everything we own has been given to us by God, not to use at our whims, but in order to do good - to care for a family, to live, to create beauty, to show love, etc. Stewardship tells us that nothing we have is ours; it is just ours to take care of. It is better to consider our possessions not as things we own, but as that part of creation with which we have been entrusted.
All humans have an equal share in creation. The earth equally belongs to me and Bill Gates. All of creation is the common inheritance of the human race. Some individuals have been entrusted with a large portion of this shared inheritance, some individuals have chosen to renounce the responsibility and live in poverty, and some individuals live in forced poverty without even the essentials.
Everything you own is a responsibility. If you own a house, you have to care for the house. If you own a dollar, you have to use the dollar well. Those who have been entrusted with much have a great responsibility to care for those who possess little. Whether we are rich in material goods, intelligence, talents, time, or any other gift from God, there is a force within us, impelling us to use our riches for good, to make the world a better place.
Our country, our civilization is falling apart around us. Why? Because of greed. Not just the greed of the 1%, of the Wall Street types. It is the greed of everyone who considers their life to be their own. Satan is always trying to get us to ask, "What's in it for me?" To understand stewardship, a person first has to view their life differently. Instead of wondering, "What do I have? Where have I ended up? Do I like my position in the world?", a steward wants to know "What have I accomplished?"
Stewardship appears in the second reading today, but it is not concerned with money. It is about ownership of a mystery. St. Paul says: Brothers and sisters: You have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for your benefit. St. Paul is saying that he is in charge of a mystery: that Jesus Christ is come to save the whole world. He knows this mystery, he possesses the knowledge, but the knowledge is not his to change as he wants or his to forget. It is his to take care of. He is a steward, a manager.
In the first reading and the psalm, there is a prophecy that, perhaps, we do not realize how astounding it is. The psalm declares: “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you.” The first reading promises that the city of Jerusalem will be holy to the whole world. We are not astounded, we are not shocked by this prophecy because it has come true. Half the world calls the city of Jerusalem holy. People from this side of the earth do make pilgrimages to Jerusalem. And every nation on earth does adore the Lord. No matter which country, no matter which group of people, there are Christians there.
But when these prophecies were made, it surely seemed very unlikely. The Jews were just coming back from the exile. Jerusalem was a city destroyed. The temple had been torn down to the ground. It was a wasteland. Yet the prophecy was made, and it has come to pass.
How did this happen? People like St. Paul were put in charge of a mystery and they did not bury it in the ground, but, rather, they invested it and had a harvest one-hundredfold. The Apostles were good stewards of the faith, spreading it throughout the whole world. They were followed by other stewards: missionaries and Christians of every sort of vocation.
Today is the celebration of the Epiphany of God, the revelation of the fullness of the Truth to all people. Today we celebrate how the Magi, representing the ends of the earth, see the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. We celebrate every revelation, from the beginning of time, until now. Darkness was over the world' heavy darkness covered the nations, and then the dawn from on high broke in. As the sun has the power to turn night into day, so the Son of God has the power to turn the darkness of sin into the brightness of grace.
Every one of us is a steward. Every one of us has money and property that we are in charge of. We all have talents and intelligence that have been entrusted to us to use for good. But above all material possessions, greater than our personal gifts, is the revelation of Jesus Christ. There is no treasure on earth that compares to this revelation. There is nothing we possess more precious than the truth.
We are in charge of this mystery, our faith. We all possess the faith and are stewards of it. What is a steward to do? First of all, we must preserve it in ourselves. The faith is not something that lasts if it is put up on a high shelf and forgotten. It gets dusty and creaky, with stiff joints. Our faith is alive, and it must be fed. The food is the Word of God and the Body of Christ. We will be called to account for how we took care of the faith within us.
And then, we must spread the faith to others. If we know the truth, we must preach the truth. We are missionaries. Not necessarily to the far reaches of the world, although some may have that vocation. We are missionaries to our hometowns. You are all missionaries to Winona. There are people in our midst who do not possess the faith or do not possess its fullness. We are called to bring the faith to them. We are called to preach. Mostly by deeds, but also by words spoken at opportune moments. All of us, not only the clergy. We are missionaries to our coworkers and our friends. Parents are like missionaries to the future, as they hand on the faith to their children.