A reflection on the readings for the 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – August 7, 2022.
On August 3rd, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke about the energy crisis in the world and the harm it is causing to our common home:
…It is immoral for oil and gas companies to be making record profits from this energy crisis on the backs of the poorest people and communities and at a massive cost to the climate. The combined profits of the largest energy companies in the first quarter of this year are close to $100 billion…I urge people everywhere to send a clear message to the fossil fuel industry and their financiers that this grotesque greed is punishing the poorest and most vulnerable people, while destroying our only common home, the planet.
Our common home is getting destroyed not only by the “grotesque greed” and immorality of oil companies, but also by deforestation, commercialization of water resources, and inconsiderate draining of resources from the earth. While many of our people are dying—even in the United States—due to unforeseen rains, floods, and hurricanes, it is time that we open our eyes to reality. What I am writing today is not politics, though environmental issues can be politically heated in today’s world. I am writing to urge reflection about a topic that is deeply spiritual because it is an integral part of our very existence as human beings.
Writing his gospel approximately fifty to fifty-five years after the death and resurrection of Jesus, Luke, like his readers, is all too familiar with a common lament. The Risen Jesus was expected to return, but his return has been delayed now for some fifty years. Some Christians are dying, others are frustrated, and still others are beginning to throw care to the wind. In this context, Luke is writing this gospel to a particular faith community and narrating Jesus’ parable of the faithful and unfaithful servant.
There is an owner of a house. He leaves His entire household to the care of the servants to attend a wedding. Obviously, this household includes fellow human beings, animals, land, and other goods. The owner is delayed in coming back. In the meantime, the stewards are to “be prepared.” Even though they are told not to put off their duties, they do just that, believing they will have time to accomplish their stewardship later.
In the story, the immoral steward is preoccupied with his own needs, ill-treats people, and abuses the resources of his master’s house. As a consequence, this unfaithful steward, “who knew the master’s will but refused to act accordingly shall be beaten severely.” Jesus ends the parable with the lesson: “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.”
The unfaithful servant understands that he does not own the master’s house; he is just a steward. Yet he abuses the very house that the master has entrusted him with, the common home that has been given to him. He forgets that the master will come back and ask for the house which belongs to him.
The common home that God entrusts to us is the earth, the only livable planet known to us as of now. From the beginning of creation, God has been entrusting His house, His earth to His people. He is the maker of the His house, because He says, “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.” (Isaiah 66:1) He gave Eden, a garden-like paradise, to Adam and Eve. God blessed Abraham with a nation and people. Yahweh blessed the people of Israel with the promised land. After the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, the earth takes on a different dimension: a sacramental dimension. The earth becomes a new earth, “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away… Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ (Rev 21:1–5). God’s own house has become our common home.
God the Master entrusts His house to people as stewards. In the book of the Prophet Isaiah (chapter 42), God delights in His servant. The Servant of God is a perfect example of stewardship on earth. The Servant of the Lord is filled with the Holy Spirit, the servant will not a break a bruised reed, will not snuff out a smoldering wick. The Servant is gentle on the earth. Yet the prophet says, “You have seen many things, but you pay no attention; your ears are open, but you do not listen.” (Isaiah 42:20).
In 2015, Pope Francis, in his Encyclical Letter On Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si’, carried forward the ecological concerns of his predecessors:
This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters. (No.2)
There is a beautiful Native American saying, “When the last tree is cut down, the last fish is eaten, and the last stream poisoned, you will realize that you cannot eat money.” Our world seems to operate on a depletion economy which leaves destruction to our common home in its wake. When the air we breathe is sickening, we will realize, too late, that wealth is not in bank accounts and that we can’t eat the money we have earned by depleting the earth. Somehow, I believe, external pollution is a sign of deep inward corruption.
It is not possible to sustain the common home of the master with the attitude of “present needs and present gains.” Some think that anything from the house of the Master can be destroyed as long as some money can be made. We forget neither the house nor the money belongs to us. Both are a gift. It is sad to see that we, the so-called followers of Christ, are the very people who deny one of the fundamental teachings of the Church. We have forgotten that we live in the house of the Master and that we are just stewards. We forget that we will have to give an honest account of how we managed this common home when the Master of the house returns.
God, the master of creation, longs to entrust us with His property. Heaven is not possible without the earth, because God became incarnate on this earth. God is “Immanuel” on the earth. That God would entrust us with such a treasure is difficult to understand, especially in these days when our own trust has been broken time and time again. Yet the Master still trusts us with His house, our common home. Let us be faithful stewards of it.
Image Credit: Pixabay
Fr. Fredrick Devaraj comes from India. He was a member of the Congregation of the Holy Redeemer, the Redemptorists of Bangalore Province. Now he is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, Missouri, serving at St. Alban Roe Catholic Church.