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Tolkien's Tale of Stewardship
April 30, 2004
I was thrilled several years ago to hear that the book The Lord of the Rings was going to be made into a series of epic films. With production budgets in the hundreds of millions of dollars and the bulk of the work being done outside of Hollywood, I knew this series was going to be good! But more than being able to watch a great series of films, I was thrilled to know that a book I had read several times and for which I had great respect would be brought into the mainstream. Not too long ago people who read The Lord of the Rings were considered just a bit weird. When we brought the book up in conversation it would often earn us a look that said “you’re not one of those Dungeons and Dragons people, are you?” I am not. I simply enjoy a good story and J.R.R. Tolkien was a master at telling one.
Now that Lord of the Rings has entered the mainstream we who have known and loved the story for many years can finally use its rich depths for purposes of illustration. It is that which I intend to do today.
Tolkien writes about a kingdom called Gondor which for many years has not had a king. While waiting for the rightful heir to come and claim his throne, a series of stewards has been placed in charge of the land. The steward in charge at the time of the events described in the book is named Denethor and he has two sons, Boromir and Faramir, both of whom figure prominently in the story (and subsequently, in the movie). As steward of the land, Denethor has the power of the king but without the title. He is able to make decisions and to pass judgment. He receives the respect and admiration of the people of the land. His primary task is to do whatever is best for the land in the absence of the rightful ruler. In all he does he is to remember his position – to remember that he is not the king. As a constant reminder of his temporary position he is forbidden to rule from the king’s throne.
“…awe fell upon him as he looked down that avenue of kings long dead. At the far end upon a dais of many steps was set a throne under a canopy of marble shaped like a crowned helm; behind it was carved upon the wall and set with gems an image of a tree in flower. But the throne was empty. At the foot of the dais, upon the lowest step which was broad and deep, there was a stone chair, black and unadorned, and on it sat an old man gazing at his lap.” (Lord of the Rings, page 784)
That man, of course, is the steward. Where the king was allowed the full honor of sitting upon the throne, surrounded by splendor, the steward is consigned to rule from a plain, unadorned chair that sat at the foot of the throne.
Denethor is not a very good steward. He dreads the day the king returns, for he knows that with the return of the king will come his own return to obscurity. He jealously guards the power that had been given him and does not look forward to the day when he will have to relinquish the kingdom to its rightful owner. This attitude affects his decisions, for he often makes decisions based on his own desire for preservation rather than based on what is best for the kingdom he has sworn to protect. We find him saying:
“…the Lord of Gondor is not to be made the tool of other men’s purposes, however worthy. And to him there is no purpose higher in the world as it now stands than the good of Gondor; and the rule of Gondor, my lord, is mine and no other man’s, unless the king should come again.” To this Gandalf replied “Unless the king should come again? Well, my lord Steward, it is your task to keep some kingdom against that even, which few now look to see.” (Page 788)
The steward is failing in his duty to properly care for what has been entrusted to him. We learn later that he had been going beyond the care of his office and had become corrupted by the enemy. His abuse of what had been entrusted to him leads to his own corruption.
So why do I use this illustration? I use it because the concept of stewardship is largely foreign to our culture. We understand ownership, borrowing, leasing and mortgaging but have little knowledge of stewardship. Yet it is a crucial concept in the Bible and one that we ought to know well. And here in the mainstream is a wonderful example of stewardship gone wrong.
The Bible tells us that we are stewards of the talents, treasures and gifts God has given to us. Each of us is responsible to be a faithful steward with the gifts and talents with which God has blessed us. Where God has given richly, much is expected in return. At no time does God give us full and final ownership of what He has given us. We need to realize that we are but stewards.
Where God gives me treasure I need to ensure that I do not begin to believe that it is mine. I need to seek God’s will on how He, as king, would have me use it. He has given me His instruction manual in The Bible which gives me the guidelines I need to understand what he would have me do. When God tells me to let go of the money He has entrusted to my care, I need to immediately and cheerfully open my hand and let it go.
God has blessed me with two beautiful children, yet I know that I have them only on trust. God has made me steward of those children. As such I need to dedicate myself to raising them in a way that would please Him, knowing that at any moment He could choose to take them back to Himself.
We will return briefly to our story.
Drunk with corruption and power and unwilling to hand over the kingdom, Denethor, steward of Gondor, takes his own life, ending his years of poor stewardship. His son, Faramir, takes his place. Soon the heir to the throne returns to Gondor and Faramir has an opportunity to prove his character.
”Faramir met Aragorn [the rightful king] in the midst of those there assembled, and he knelt, and said: “The last steward of Gondor begs leave to surrender his office.”…Then Faramir stood up and spoke in a clear voice: “Men of Gondor, hear now the Steward of this realm! Behold! One has come to claim the kingship again at last. Here is Aragorn son of Arathorn…Shall he be king and enter into the city and dwell there?” And all the host and all the people cried yea with one voice.”
Moments later, when the new king has been crowned, it is Faramir who leads the cries of “Behold the king!”
Faramir was everything his father was not. He was a good steward who looked forward to the return of the king and was willing and ready to hand what had been entrusted to him to its rightful owner. Faramir proved his character.
When the King returns He will ask me if I have been a faithful steward. He will examine the evidence and where He gave me much He will expect much in return. It is my hope and my prayer that I will be faithful with what He has given me, so that I can hear Him say that I have been a good steward, faithfully doing the will of my King. When the King returns I pray that instead of grumbling, instead of holding on, I will be able to let go and lead the chorus of “Behold the king!”