By FRANCIS REMKIEWICZ
Our worship readings from a recent Sunday contained the Creation Story. Genesis 1:1 – 2:4. My “hiccup’ is found in verse 28 and specifically with two words. In that same verse the author (generally assumed to be Moses) uses the words (translated) into English as “subdued” and “dominion”. If you ask me, I will tell you I do not speak old Greek, Aramaic, and I barely passed Latin 3. I do believe those two words are the cause of more misunderstanding and misappropriation than almost any other two words in the Bible. Our old friend Merriam Webster defines subdue as: to conquer and bring into subjection (vanquish) and/or to bring under control “especially by an exertion of the will”. Again, Merriam Webster defines dominion as: law: supreme authority: sovereignty. To be honest both words offend my sensibilities. And perhaps more to the point, neither of the definitions of these words fit what God intended.
Looking back on the Latin and Greek definitions tend to support the Merriam Webster definition of conquering or vanquishing someone or something. So, I looked up the Hebrew (Aramaic maybe) definition and the definition/meaning found there is quite different. The Hebrew definition of subdue is “to rule by going down and walking among the subjects as an equal.” Again, as an equal.
The eleventh century English word is “stigweard”. A “stigweard” was the person assigned to the house to keep the house in good order. Meaning to keep the finances, the structure, the grounds, and the people living in the house in good order.
Here is a fast fact. Stewardship is talked about over 2,300 times in the Bible.
From my earliest understanding of Genesis, I believed that when God told humankind to subdue the world his intent is for all of us to be stewards of all that God has given to us.
I found an article that is “spot on”. The article is entitled, Stewardship in the New Testament: The Gospels and Acts, written by Dr. Sang-Bok David Kim.
Ever wonder why your priest, minister pastor, elder talks all the time about stewardship? In a brief, non-scientific survey of 90 people, fully one third of the persons surveyed had strong negative feelings about stewardship. The word triggered a strong sense of duty and guilt. Stewardship conjured up thoughts such as “money, again?”, collection plate, and worst of all, “dammit, they are after my wallet again!”. Dr. Kim contrasts stewardship in the Western churches, to stewardship in Korean churches where the term “steward” usually refers to lay workers, elders, kwonsas (an honored Deaconess in a Korean Church) deacons, and deaconesses of the church. In Korean churches stewardship means mostly the faithful services of these church officers in the church either as Sunday school teachers, choir members, or ushers.
Stewardship is not about money at all. Jesus Christ was the greatest steward of all and he rarely talked about money. Christ came from the God. God created all of us in God’s own image. Christ was God’s steward here on earth. At the baptism of Jesus, by John, Luke tells us of the words spoken by God, “And a voice came from heaven ‘You are my son. Beloved, with you I am well pleased’.” In Genesis, on the sixth day God created man and woman. At Genesis 1:31 it is written, “And God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good.” Christ was given the entire world and all that is in it, including humankind, to not only be God’s steward but to show us how God waned stewardship of his planet to be accomplished. Christ’s 33 years on this planet were devoted to demonstrating exactly how stewardship is performed.
Stewardship is not about money, or tithing, or anything like that. Stewardship is about a gratitude of love that is expressed by a responsibility to the master who has given us charge of his house. The “master” has placed us in charge of the world and everything in it. Make no mistake, we are the steward of all, but we are not the master. We are at the master’s command, charged to carry out the master’s wishes, not our own wishes. And to the master’s great glory the master sent us an example of how we are supposed to administer the master’s household. Jesus spent his entire life showing us how his father and ours wants the household treated. God has a plan and Jesus showed us how to carry that plan out. The responsible steward follows God’s plan.
One thing stewardship is not – it is not ripping our environment to shreds. In the last 50-plus years we have decided that along with all the other entitlements, we are entitled to the earth and everything in it and on it and we are even starting to spread that nonsense into the universe. The “master” has given us the planet and the universe but as stewards not as owners. We make a huge mistake when we assume the role of master. It makes “no-never-mind” whether one believes in climate change or denuding forests or strip-mining or ridding one’s company of waste in a river or lake, or burying nuclear waste in someone else’s backyard. It does not matter whether one thinks water is for fish or drinking or agriculture. That is not the point.
The point is we are all required to be good stewards. That means that we care for all things in a universal fashion and with everyone in mind. Politics say use the other countries’ resources first, save our own country’s resources for a time when we need them. Stewardship says we use all the earth’s resources for the betterment of everyone. Stewardship is not “My way or the highway” and it is not all or nothing. Stewardship is caring in such a way that everyone shares in the bounty including those who come after us. We as stewards should renew and replenish and conserve and consolidate. Stewardship takes time, talent, critical thinking, wise management of all resources including finances.
As I view the world and our societies around the world, we all have much to do. Please remember the entire story of the stewards and the master. This is the chilling part. The master returned home after a long sojourn to his home and called the three stewards to account. Two of the stewards returned to the master the original talents plus more. The third steward did not squander his talents, he just held them tightly. The master removed that third steward from the house. That should remind us to act on the proverb, “to those who are given much, much is expected”.
Francis (Frank) Remkiewicz is an area resident and contributes a monthly column focused primarily on faith and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.