by Father Mike stubbs
The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer coined the term “cheap grace” in his writings.
By that, he meant the kind that comes from a faith in God that makes no difference in one’s behavior. It does not cost the person anything. It is “cheap.”
In contrast to that, Bonhoeffer argued that our response to God’s grace always means a change in our behavior. It has to cost us something.
This fits in perfectly with Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 3:10-18. The crowd has been listening to John the Baptist preaching about the need for conversion. In response, the crowds ask John: “What should we do?”
Similarly, two other groups ask John the same question, the tax collectors and soldiers. They seek specific guidance from John on how they should live.
To the crowd in general, John encourages them to share their possessions with others. To the tax collectors, he advises they stop shaking people down to line their own pockets. Similarly, he tells the soldiers not to abuse their authority in order to gain more money.
In every case, John’s advice affects his listeners’ material well-being. He is asking them to make a sacrifice in light of God’s offer of mercy. It has to cost us something.
When we hear the word “stewardship,” we often think of our financial contributions — to put our money where our mouth is. And that is certainly part of it. Witness John’s advice to the crowds. In response to their question, “What should we do?” he is asking them to make a financial sacrifice.
But stewardship goes beyond that. It involves our management of all the gifts that God has given us — our talents, our time.
Stewardship involves the whole of our life. It includes all the decisions that we make in response to God.
In the case of Bonhoeffer, that meant the sacrifice of his life. He was executed by the Gestapo because of his opposition to the Nazi regime.
He undertook that risky course because he believed that that was where God wanted him to go. For Bonhoeffer, God’s grace was not cheap. It cost him a lot.
With that in mind, the question that the crowd poses to John is certainly a daring one: “What should we do?”
If we echo that question, we also should be prepared for challenging direction. What does God want us to do with our life? What will God’s grace cost us?