Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Jesus Christ, our savior. Amen.
“The People, meaning the Gwich’in people, should hold together, and last winter they had not done so. They had inflicted an injust on themselves and the two old women…”
With these words, Velma Wallis reveals the crucial lesson learned by the stewards of the Gwich’in people about abandoning the aged women to the harsh elements of an Artic winter. This admission from the mouth of the chief steward of the tribe presses us today as we consider the meaning of stewardship of God’s gracious care during a time such as ours; a time of shut-downs re-instituted throughout the country. For folks concerned about the economic health of our country, the self-inflicted wound of a shut-down during this harsh time would be far too great to bear; lets hope that we may never again hear calls for the aged to and vulnerable to be sacrificed for the sake of unrestrained liberty. As faithful stewards of God’s kingdom, we interpret the frantic push towards unrestrained liberty, no masks, limited safety measures and the like, as a life-denying disposition towards economics over the economy of God’s most vulnerable children. We see such disregard as a self-inflicted wound towards the abundant life God pours out on all during this time of gracious care. For we are not called to steward God’s grace as exacting accounts but to enact grace; or rather, to re-imagine and live into the story of God’s defiant steward, Jesus Christ.
Today’s gospel, however, initially appears to fit neatly into a form of stewardship that I would liken to a Think and Grow rich mentality; discern your talents wisely and don’t fail to employ them for God’s kingdom; therein lies your joy and growth. But Jesus weaves a striking account of the risk of being a steward of God’s gracious care. A Slave-Master goes off on a business trip and leaves his estate, 8 talents in total, to his three slaves, according to their ability to turn a profit. Knowing that their slave-master only cares about the Benjamins, the first and the second slave indulge in their Master’s fancy; perhaps out of fear but we are not sure. However, the third slave does not follow suit. He does something that, if I may be a bit vulnerable with you all, I did when I was a child and I had a quarter and backyard; I planted money for a money tree. The third slave planted the seeds of God’s gracious care.
So when the Master comes back hoping to receive a good return on his entire investment, he can not believe this whistleblower of a slave. If he knew that he was an unjust mogul, why didn’t he just follow suit and give me what I want? What type of steward defies this way of life and to what end? And so he casts the slave into darkness. How then do these words of judgement re-imagine our stewardship as a stewardship of care? Where does this wicked and lazy slave go where there is the weeping and the gnashing of teeth? Where in this world do we see, hear, feel and know of such a place? I can not help but jump ahead to the following parable to hear this so-called “wicked and lazy” slave speak to us once more: “Truly I tell you, just as you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Where the naked, the imprisoned, the sick, the hungry, the thirsty, the aged, the immunocompromised, the undocumented, the uninsured are, there do we see the defiant grace of God inviting us to heal the the wounds of our time. In that place, the defiant grace of God frees and re-imagines us in the power of the spirit to be stewards of gracious care; stewards of neighbors and servants of life.
The Legend of the Two Old Women participates in God’s re-imagining of peoples and resources to be stewards of gracious care. During a harsh Yukon winter, the chief and the council made the painful and regrettable decision to abandon two old women, Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’, to their death. Although they assumed the balance of life would tip towards the flourishing of the tribe, they suffered starvation, loss of life, and, “self-loathing because of the part they played in abandoning the old women.” So, they returned back in their self-inflicted wounds to the place where they had left these women for dead. To their surprise, they were no where to be seen. Defiant to death and yearning for life, those women suffered through the pain of their bodies and the wound of betrayal to discover a form of grace that carried them through the times. These two women were stewards to each other, feeding, clothing, caring for and attending to the pain in each other’s hearts. When the chief and the council heard of this gracious stewardship, their astonishment turned to shame and they wanted to be reconciled. But what was given to them was not just reconciliation but an overabundance of grace; these two old women provided food and clothing for the entire tribe. In the face of these defiant old women, we see the face of God in Christ for our present time. We come to see a God who stewards us in a care that attends to our wounds, our bodies and our life together. It is God in Christ, our so-called wicked steward, who forms us to be stewards of abundance according not to the economic systems of our day but to the compassion deep in our bones; a compassion that embraces, feeds, reconciles and learns from the least of these.
This compassionate heart to our stewardship of graces does not at the outset preclude us from supporting institutions, organizations or churches that do make economically sound decisions. Rather in forming us as stewards of grace, God constantly invites us to re-imagine and re-new our resources, finances and talents with the vulnerable of society in mind. Our stewardship is one that participates, through financial support, through volunteering, through education and/or through one-on-one dialogue, in God’s compassionate stewardship. Especially at this time, Velma Wallis’ words, “The People should hold together, and last winter they had not done so,” become for us a re-imaging of stewardship as tenacious in life together, defiant towards the economically driven, compassionate with all who weep and gnash their teeth. This is wisdom. Let us attend. That God comes to us as Two Old Women in our stories of pain, wounds, difficult diagnosis, surgery and death so that we may be held together in a community of the same; yearning for the world to tip the balance towards wounded bodies and not towards winning bodies. For our days are filled with toil and trouble at this present time but each day brings to us an opportunity to incline our heart towards wisdom. The legend of the Two Old Women concludes with a reflection on such wisdom about the stewarding of our days: “More Hard times were to follow for in the cold land of the North, it could be no other way, but the The People kept their promise. They had learned a lesson taught by two whom they came to love and care for until each died a truly happy old woman.” Amen.