From the earliest times, the “Lord of the Manor” relied on his stewards to handle the day-to-day business of running the household or estate. Stewards are mentioned in the Old and New Testaments and, though servants–or even slaves–they were entrusted with the most important duties. Herod’s steward, Chuzas, is widely assumed to have been in charge of the administration of the Herodium and the education of Herod’s children.
By the Middle Ages, this was such an important role that when the Lords were away from their lands, they left their seneschal (what a great title, but it’s just an Old High German variation of steward) in charge to rule in their stead.
The steward, a servant, wielded tremendous power and influence. And yet, at the end of the day he could never be promoted to the position of Lord of his own Manor. He would remain a servant his entire life. This tells us that the steward existed to be of service and do a good job. Their reward was the approval of their Lord.
Jesus used stewards as characters in his parables, but it is in the epistles that we can find ourselves and perhaps better understand why seeing ourselves as a steward is so important. When Jesus led the disciples to Bethany, just before ascending to Heaven to reclaim His place at the right hand of God, he left them with the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28: 19 NIV). The Lord of Lords was leaving the manor and putting his seneschals in charge.
In the epistles of Paul and Peter, we read how seriously the early Church leaders took this responsibility. They wanted so much to maintain their Lord’s favor that they took extra care to faithfully share the Gospel with others. In 1st Corinthians 4:1-2, we read, “1 This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. 2Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful.” (NIV).
We are called to no less. Stewardship– being responsible for the Kingdom while the King is away is built into our commitments as United Methodists. When joining the Church we vow to faithfully participate in its ministries by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. (Book of Discipline: ¶ 217. Membership Vows).
As we head into our annual Stewardship Campaign, it is important to recognize that we are the seneschals of Jacksonville, Central Arkansas, and the world. We have a large responsibility…but we also have been given the authority that goes with that: responsibility by Jesus Christ. We have promised to be good stewards: to pray, to be a visible member of the Church, to give back a part of our worldly goods, to serve, and to live out and share the Good News. The Master is depending on us to do ALL these things.
So as we spend time considering stewardship, let’s be filled with the confidence that Jesus left us with the charge to manage His estate until he returns. If we’re sincere and committed, how great a day will it be when He does come back and rewards us: not with a title or a promotion, but with the affirmation of a job well done. I can only imagine how full it would make a heart to see the pride of a Master well-served. What a glorious day.