One of my summer internships when I was a seminary student was in a parish which had a Bulletin editor who was prone to occasional typographical errors. At the beginning of my summer internship, the Bulletin editor put an announcement in the Bulletin about my summer assignment. The Bulletin editor intended to say that I would be ministering to the parish during the summer months but, instead said that I would be administrator of the parish for the summer months.
In Church law, an administrator has the same executive and leadership authority as a pastor. The only difference between the two positions is longevity; administrators have a short-term assignment to a parish while pastors have a long-term assignment.
The parish office staff had quite a laugh when I explained the implications of the typographical error. The pastor, on the other hand, was not amused. Like Herod in today’s Gospel reading, he was very annoyed by the suggestion that he could be replaced by a younger leader. I tried to reassure him by saying that I was very anxious to get out of that parish as soon as possible. Again, he was not amused.
In the second reading today, the Letter to the Ephesians says that St. Paul was given “stewardship of God’s grace” for the benefit of the church at Ephesus (and all gentiles). The word translated here as “stewardship” means “administration” in the sense of the executive authority given to a person in a leadership position. The Letter to the Ephesians says that Paul was an administrator in the same sense that the Bulletin in that parish so long ago named me as the new parish administrator.
One might well ask why God’s grace needs an administrator in order to accomplish its intended purpose. The answer to this question is found in the Gospel reading. The revelation of God’s grace led Mary and Joseph to protect and nurture the infant Jesus. The revelation of God’s grace led the Magi to worship the infant Jesus as king and savior. The revelation of God’s grace led Herod to retreat further into the darkness of sin.
In the Incarnation, God revealed God’s gracious intent to redeem the world from sin. Curiously, the Divine will elicits very different responses from the people who witness it. The varied responses to God’s grace result from the fact that God’s grace reveals the truth. God’s grace reveals the truth about God, namely, that God desires the salvation of all creatures. God’s grace reveals the truth about creation, as well. God’s grace reveals both good and evil in the world. The good in the world reflects the spiritual light of God’s grace, but evil does not; evil is revealed as darkness.
The Letter to the Ephesians describes St. Paul as a steward or administrator of God’s grace because those who live in the darkness of sin need help to step into the light. Ultimately, the necessary help toward repentance and reform comes from God, but proximately, it can come only from someone who has already experienced God’s grace. In order to be communicated through human interaction, God’s grace needs an administrator. As one who first persecuted Christians, then became a fearless preacher of the Gospel, St. Paul was an apposite administrator of God’s grace. He experienced the profound depths of God’s forgiveness and was indefatigable in his desire to have others share the experience.
One can know with certainty that one shares St. Paul’s experience of God’s grace when one sees oneself and the world in the way Paul did. When he saw the darkness of sin in his own life, St. Paul was grateful that he had come to repentance and knowledge of salvation. When he saw the darkness of sin in the lives of others, he shared with them the good news of forgiveness through the death of Jesus. Those who see the light of grace and respond with repentance share both Paul’s sense of hope for the world and Paul’s sense of mission for the world.
The feast of the Epiphany demonstrates that God’s grace transforms the whole world. Unfortunately, that transformation is not uniform; some experience it as redemption while others experience it as judgment. It is appropriate, then, to identify the effects that the light of God’s grace has in one’s life.
If your life remains in the darkness of unbelief, then God’s grace invites you to step into the light. If you live in the light of God’s grace, you are responsible to invite others to share in the forgiveness that transforms the whole world.
The lives of Joseph and Mary were very different from the lives of the Magi, but all of them shared the experience of God’s grace. It is God’s intention that, whatever direction a person’s life takes, God’s grace will be the source of light and truth. God’s grace calls us to walk in the light and lead others to the same experience.