Father Mitch Pacwa’s homily for October 21st
An important term that keeps both readings together is that of being a steward; oikonómos, in Greek. We can recognize the word economy comes from that. Oikonomía referred to all the inhabited region of the world. The oikonómos has this duty as a steward within that world to serve the Lord
St. Paul speaks of himself as a steward as does saint Peter in his 1st epistle. Chapter 4 of that epistle. St. Paul also in Chapter 4 1st Corinthians speaks of himself as a steward. And exactly as here, he sees himself as a steward of the mysteries of God. This has a double meaning. In today’s reading from Ephesians, he especially speaks about the way that the mystery was made known to me by revelation. He speaks about having insight into the mystery of Christ. Yet a third time also speaks about making known this mystery to the world. In this sense, he sees that the things revealed by God are the mysteries. That application of the term mystery to these things of God goes back to the book of Daniel.
Daniel uses the Aramaic word, resa, to mean mystery. And this is an extremely important element for us to understand. Because God will remain always infinite and we human beings, no matter how holy we become, no matter how high in the heavens we might become, we will always remain finite–that is, limited human beings. We will never be anything other than limited creatures. God will remain the infinite creator. And we will never bridge that gap. And this emphasis of St. Paul, as well as Saint Peter, but especially St. Paul, of being a steward of the mysteries of God, emphasizes that God makes known to us elements of who He is. And in revealing himself God makes known to us who we are. We don’t fully ever understand ourselves apart from the creator any more than we can understand ourselves apart from the larger world. We belong to a world. We belong to the people that we are with. And we cannot understand ourselves separately from them. Neither can human beings understand themselves separately from God. And, the more you get to know individuals, the more you realize what a mystery that person is.
Couples who remain in love for 50 and 60 years, of marriage, will still say at the end of that 60 years–I came across one couple married for 74 years–and they still say, I still do not understand why he does that. There is just that mystery. All you married people know what I am talking about. “I don’t know but I love her. I would be dead without her.” This mystery of the other person, it is so important.
If you think that the person you live with who is a fellow limited creature is a mystery, how much more is God a mystery? And accepting that fact is essential for being a believer. This is something that we accept; the mystery of God.
The nature of heresy, when people teach falsehood is that they take one part of the mystery out of context and make it the whole mystery and then they solve the problem. They say, “this is not hard, I understand what God is doing. I will just take part of the mystery out, and then it is clear,” and they are right, it is clear, but it is still wrong. As wrong as when I was in algebra 2 and I did not understand part of a problem, and skipped it, I was wrong. As the teachers all pointed out. This is the way it is in terms of the mystery of God.
So, those who would say–and I hear this a lot–I have been amazed of late how many people are saying to me, “well, Judas could not help doing what he did.” And the more I hear that proposed by people, you know, I have course said, that is not true. Our Lord tried to make a last ditch effort at the Last Supper to win him back. He warned him that, “it would be better if you were not born than do this.” He made it clear to him he was responsible. But people want Judas not to be responsible. Do you think that is about Judas Iscariot? No. It is about themselves. They do not want to accept that they are responsible for sins that they have made sometimes into a habit; drug use, alcoholism, lust, a variety of different sins; they say, “God made me this way.” Child, I do not think so. No. And you still have a free will to make a choice. You may need to depend absolutely radically on God like the rest of us, and we do have to keep, we are not going to commit heresy by saying it is all up to me, and I just have to pull myself up by my own bootstraps. No, that is Pelagian heresy. It is neither that I can do it all by myself, nor is it that I am determined by God and predetermined and I can’t do anything about it. Both of those take the mystery out of context. And you can go right on through all the other mysteries of God. Well, he is one God. So, Jesus is an angel. No. Jesus, the Holy Spirit, God the father are coequal persons of the one God. You do not take part of the mystery out because then it is no longer a mystery and I understand it. As soon as we understand the mystery and we have comprehended it and got it, I would say as a principle, that means you are wrong.
St. Paul is willing to be a steward of those mysteries. He understands that they are still mysterious to him. But it is in that humility that belongs to us as creatures, as our nature, as creatures, that we say, I don’t get it all. That’s okay. That is what keeps God interesting. Just like spouses after many years still do not fully understand. As a matter of fact, the parallel with spouses is really close because I always have red flags go down on the field as soon as I hear one or other in a couple say, “I know what he is going to say; he says the same thing all the time. She always says…” As soon as they say that the mystery is gone. They think they’ve got them. They are missing the other person.
The same is true in our comprehension of God. We take the elements of mystery that he has given to us as a free gift by revelation. He reveals this to us. “And this is who I am. I show you my providence, but I also expect you to be,” as our savior said in today’s Gospel, “I expect you to be faithful and clever.” God’s providence does not mean that I just sit back and let it happen. Neither does God’s providence so retreat into the background, like many people think, well, God just put us in charge of the world and he will let us do as we want to, and we will run the world our way. That’s not true either.
The mysteries come from God. They are about the infinite God. And that is why St. Paul speaks of himself as an oikonómos, a steward. They are not his mysteries. He is not the lord of the house. He is not the one who invents the mysteries. He is the one who receives them and then, as he says here, I became a minister. The word he uses–I checked out when brother was reading this passage–that is the diákonos, the deacon, the minister. By the gift of God’s grace, in order to make this mystery known to the Gentiles, to make it known to the Ephesians, and to the rest of us who read what he wrote. It is not his mystery; it is God’s mystery, putting his trust. And then shared with those throughout the Church that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the Church, even to the principalities and authorities in heaven. This is a tremendous task to be that kind of minister.
The second sense of mystery also shows up still in Eastern Church and, if you know Latin well enough, in the Western Church. The sacraments are called to mystírio, the mysteries. We referred to in the Eastern Church as the sacraments as mysteries. In the Latin church we call them sacramentas. And the word sacrament also means mystery. Because we are engaged in this in many ways the stewardship also refers to those who are ministers of the sacraments as well as of the truths about God. Both senses of that word, the mysteries of what God teaches us of himself and the Seven Sacraments; both of these are ministered.
What the Gospel does for us is remind us: the steward is placed in charge of the Lord’s house but still it is not the steward’s house. He cannot do with the house what he wishes for himself. That is why it is not my Mass as a priest and no priest can claim authority over the Mass. We’re stewards. The Mass is the mass of Jesus Christ. Baptism is the baptism of Jesus Christ. Matrimony, it is not owned by a couple. It belongs to Jesus Christ. It is his sacrament. Every sacrament that we have belongs to Christ. Every truth about God belongs to Christ, the word made flesh. And we are simply stewards.
Being a steward, well, you guys get to do this, you must feel like you can coast now. Our Lord says exactly the opposite. We are held accountable, especially those who are the popes, bishops, and cardinals, and priests, and deacons. We are stewards of the sacraments, these mysteria, as well as of the preaching of the Word of God. This is what we are commissioned to do. We do not do it by our own willfulness or in our own way. Christ says, who is the faithful steward? O pistós oikonomos, and pistós means to have faith as well as be a person who is responsible to doing the duties of a steward faithfully. And that we are going to be judged all the more strictly because of this. We have to be there to distribute to the other members of the household, these gifts of God. And that we will be held accountable. And we are also supposed to be clever, frónimos; it is not wise in the theoretical sense, that would be, sophos. He uses the word frónimos here, to be clever about the practical things that we have to figure out how can I be a good steward to make sure that people are fed with the truths of God, not my ideas–it is not about getting across my notions, it is about fidelity to Christ’s revelation, and the other mysteria, the food, especially the Eucharist, that belongs to Christ. We will be judged by that.
If a steward is unfaithful, if a pope or bishop or priest or Deacon is unfaithful in the ministry that we have to celebrate the sacraments or to preach the truth about God, this translation makes it nice. They will be punished severely. That is nice. In Greek it says they will be cut into pieces–the long way. Why that? Because going back to the time of Abraham being cut in to two pieces was the punishment for breaking a covenant. And the unfaithful steward will be punished as one who breaks a covenant.
So, we priests also must make sure that we come and make account of ourselves and confessing our sins and repenting of what we do wrong, our selfishness, our own mind, our own false teaching and turn to be faithful to the Gospel of Christ and be faithful distributors of his other mysteries, the Sacraments, so that Christ then can say, well done, good and faithful servant. Now I will put you in charge of other things.
This is the task set before us all.
Transcript provided by WQPH