Christ was not very nice in today’s Gospel. He weeps over Jerusalem, predicting its destruction. Then he enters the temple and throws out the moneychangers, crying “My house is the house of prayer: but ye have made it a den of thieves.” (Luke 19:41+) He is not always sweet and kind. Do the right thing, he says. Follow the rules and you will be happy. God’s house is for worship.
The Epistle (I Corinthians 12:1+) explains the gifts of the Holy Spirit – wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment, tongues – which enable us to do God’s will, to be happy.
How do we live our lives? How do we choose what to do with our time? I’ve been thinking about work and play, labor and rest. Much has been written to define work, but most definitions seem to circle and never really land. It is often said, and it is true for me, that work “keeps you out of trouble.” In other words it guides my time productively.
The most obvious definition of work is a paying job. We need a job to earn dollars to pay for our daily needs. We need food for our bodies to live another day. We need shelter to protect us from nature and from lawbreakers. We need clothing to protect us from weather. But beyond these needs we want added comfort, toys to entertain us, experiences to enrich our lives, but these are not needs.
But work is more than putting in time and receiving a paycheck for our needs.
I believe work provides meaning, and man needs meaning in his life. Work could be said to be a meaningful activity that is also productive. At the very least a job provides food and shelter, but it also provides a sense of accomplishment. I spent many years typing and filing. While the hours were tedious, boring, and seemed forever, I always had the sense that I had accomplished something, turned chaos (the stacks of paper) into order. And the work paid the rent and put food on the table for my son and I. This was productive too. This was satisfying.
What happens when we don’t have work to do? What happens when we don’t have a job?
Welfare recipients have something in common with retirees and with young people whose parents pay their way through life. They have free time. They do not work. How do they use their free time? Are they engaged in meaningful productive activity?
Some are. Some have disciplined their days and hours, are self-starters. They volunteer in church and charity. They offer their talents and time to others. But many fall into depression with time on their hands. They don’t want to work, but they don’t seem to enjoy idleness.
One of the commentators on the London riots mentioned that these young thugs have been raised with government support. The jobs they have been offered pay less than the checks they receive from the good people of Britain, so why should they work? So they have lots of time and limited income and they cannot buy what they want. Interviews with rioters revealed that they viewed the burning and stealing as fun, not as a protest to government cutbacks. They could take what they wanted and not be punished. Where were their parents? Most had only a mother at home, terrified of her child.
And then why do middle and upper class young people who have parents who pay their way through life fall into despair, become victims of drug and alcohol? They have the material extras, they have shelter and food. But they have lots of time and no purpose.
And retirees, health allowing, also need to fill their days. Working as a volunteer gives purpose and meaning to their lives. Offering hours to church and charity is good for the heart.
Humans are hardwired to work. We yearn to do right, yet too often grow lazy, and with laziness we become selfish, greedy. God helps us with that, with his Holy Spirit. We pray for wisdom to fill our hours as he wills. We offer ourselves. We try to keep our bodies and souls clean so that when he returns he will not need to turn over any tables and the cleaning house will not be too painful. We seek his new Jerusalem, the one he wants for us.
Work, true labor in life, is simply doing his will. He fills our time and fills us up with himself.