My 2-year old daughter holds a brown paper sack, emboldened on one side with the four letters that spell her name: COCO. The sack served as a makeshift Christmas stocking this year since her real stocking is stored in a basement somewhere in Idaho. It contains an assortment of toys and candies, some the same as her sisters and some selected especially for her. She confidently states in the company of all three of her sisters and her parents: “This is mine.”
Typically that combination of words drives me to one knee in order to commence a discussion about thankfulness and giving but on this occasion I have no desire to correct her. Though it seems trivial in the eyes of an adult. In her eyes, as the middle sister among four and a little soul who has very few of her own possessions, this is a very special gift. As she holds the sack and ponders its contents, there is an obvious sense of responsibility and awe. A sense that we should all seek to emulate with the gifts we have been given. God is the author of economics and he knows how intimately linked are the concepts of ownership and stewardship. If we saw our earthly skills and resources as a frivolous mist, we would have no desire to care for these things and would therefore produce no good works.
When Jesus speaks to us with the parable of the talents, the terminology and the narrative imply a sense of true ownership (Matthew 25-14-30). This should not be considered a spiritual form of leasing. Nor is he simply asking us to keep an eye on things for him while he attends to errands. The master in the story “delivered his goods to them” (v 14); he granted to each “according to his own ability” (v 15); he justifies his distribution based on how well the talents are used “for to everyone who has, more will be given” (v29); and he judges the faithfulness of his servants based on how much they trust him and put the talents to work (v 30). God does not take our stewardship lightly. He expects a return on his investment in you, in the form of faith-enacted works.
Our selfish hearts can concoct many ways to shirk this responsibility. One is to claim with an aw-shucks sense of self-righteousness that these gifts don’t really belong to us and it’s only a matter of time until they are taken away. Another, perhaps worse excuse is to look at our gifts as temptations that are to be avoided, lets we get caught up in idolatry and forget the Lord.
In the course of history, we have also designed large scale systems that enable other types of sins. One of the central claims of socialism is that nothing ultimately belongs to a person but to all people. This does not remove the possibility for sin, it simply removes any sense of personal responsibility that would encourage people toward good works. If I benefit equally regardless of whether I’ve done the work, why go through all the toil? But, I heard some say, through the internet cosmos, “we are to seek the good of others above ourselves, isn’t personal ownership just a way of accommodating to people’s baser instincts?” Well, note that Jesus did not tell the unfaithful servant “you ought to have given this to the church/government/co-op in order to determine its best and highest use.” His actual rebuke was much more personal: “you ought to have deposited my money” (v 27).
Looking back thinking of my daughter handling her earthly treasure, I get a small sense of the awe that Adam must have felt when the Lord told him to take dominion over every living thing. Thinking of her say “this is mine,” a sense of joy tingles in my chest. Her emphasis is not on mine but on this, and that makes all the difference.