At the recent county fair, there are several buildings dedicated to house the blue ribbon award winning pickles, pies, quilts, sewing, photographs, paintings, pigs, cattle, chickens, woodworking, you name it!! Folks from all around the area bring their best animal, works or crafts to the fair to compete with their neighbors to see who has entered the most prized works and will be judged the most perfect! These folks worked hard to achieve their blue ribbon.
We heard in the Gospel this morning about an even greater prize: “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” [Mt. 19:16] The rich young man asks our Lord if he is doing enough to be awarded the ultimate prize of heaven. There is a difference being a rich man rather than a good steward. Blessed Theophylact makes a clear distinction between thetwo. A rich man is one who has funds, and properties, and lands, and houses, and he gives to no one. He steals: He is a thief, because he is stealing from the poor. A steward is a person who has substance also. He has money; He might have land and have houses, but he also has mercy and shares his riches with the poor. Then he is a good steward of his wealth.
The young man had virtues and a strong inclination to abide by the law and he had worked hard. But he also had a love of things more than his love for God. He did not understand that everything he had is God’s and seemed to covet his possessions! There is certainly not a thing wrong with having wealth, but there is a thing wrong with being stingy! If we chose to be comfortable and have all kinds of toys but we chose not to tithe our church and help the poor and those suffering from tragedies, we will briefly enjoy the wealth of the world but our soul will sink in the depth of poverty where the worms never cease. (Mark 9:48)
Some of us also struggle with attachment to things. We over extend our budgets in pursuit of material things we believe will bring us happiness and starve the poor and the needy and only give what is left-over to our church and His ministry. We have trained ourselves to serve an idol, a demi-god which is increasing our vanity in the world and making our salvation harder to obtain. We have become rich with stuff but lost the ultimate prize! Sometimes we get so obsessed with stuff and that buzz we get when we purchase something; it seems almost as an award for ourselves, for our efforts. Some of these demi-gods of stuff consume our precious time as well replacing our prayer time with hell. The thief uses our attachment to things to get his foot wedged squarely in the door as an unwanted intruder, ready to harm us and our families and steal our salvation!
We remember the profit Malachi saying: “Bring the entire tithe into the storehouse so that there may be food in my temple. Test me in this matter,” says the Lord who rules over all, “to see if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until there is no room for it all. (Malachi 3:10) And also our Lord’s parable in St. Luke: And he spoke a parable to them, saying, “The land of a certain rich man produced well. “And he was considering within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, because I have no room where I shall gather together my fruit?’ “And he said, ‘This will I do: I will take down my storehouses and build greater ones; and there will I gather together all my produce and my good things. “‘And I will say to my soul, “Soul, thou hast many good things being laid up for many years; be taking thy rest; eat, drink, and be merry.”’ “But God said to him, ‘Fool, this night they demand thy soul from thee; and what thou didst prepare, for whom shall it be?’ “Thus is the one who treasureth up for himself, and is not rich toward God.” [Lk 12:16-21]
So where is that line of division that separates putting away for our future retirement and being a poor steward? The ability to define the difference between ownership and stewardship is one of the hardest lessons to understand. Each and every one of us is unique and has been given free will of all of God’s creation. But our time here is limited and everything here is on loan from the Creator. Give Him His tithe and prove that you can be a good steward of talents and He will increase you. Our tithe is our best offering first, our blue ribbon achievement, with total trust in He who created it all, and we will always have enough for our families and for our future. And in that pursuit with our very best effort and His abundant grace we remember: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” [Mt. 19:26]