November 16, 2007

If Anyone Will Not Work, Let Him Not Eat

Gospel Commentary for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

By Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap

ROME, NOV. 16, 2007 (Zenit.org).- This Sunday's Gospel is one of the famous discourses on the end of the world, which are characteristic of the end of the liturgical year.

It seems that in one of the first Christian communities, that of Thessalonica, there were believers who drew mistaken conclusions from these discourses of Christ. They thought that it was useless to weary themselves, to work or do anything since everything was about to come to an end. They thought it better to take each day as it came and not commit themselves to long-term projects and only to do the minimum to get by.

St. Paul responds to them in the second reading: "We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a disorderly way, by not keeping busy but minding the business of others. Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food." At the beginning of the passage, St. Paul recalls the rule that he had given to the Christians in Thessalonica: "If anyone will not work, let him not eat."

This was a novelty for the men of that time. The culture to which they belonged looked down upon manual labor; it was regarded as degrading and as something to be left to slaves and the uneducated. But the Bible has a different vision. From the very first page it presents God as working for six days and resting on the seventh day. And all of this happens in the Bible before sin is spoken of. Work, therefore, is part of man's original nature and is not something that results from guilt and punishment. Manual labor is just as dignified as intellectual and spiritual labor. Jesus himself dedicates 17 years to the former -- supposing he began to work around 13 -- and only a few years to the latter.

A layman has written: "What sense and what value does our ordinary work as laypeople have before God? It is true that we laypeople also do a lot of charity work, engage in the apostolate, and volunteer work; but we must give most of our time and energies to ordinary jobs. If this sort of work has no value for heaven, we will have very little for eternity. No one we have asked about this has been able to give us satisfactory answers. They say: "Offer it all to God!" but is this enough?

My reply: No, the value of our work is not only conferred on it by the "good intention" we put into it or the morning offering we make to God; it also has a value in itself, as a participation in God's creative and redemptive work and as service to our brothers. We read in one of the Vatican II documents, in "Gaudium et Spes," that it is by "his labor [that] a man ordinarily supports himself and his family, is joined to his fellow men and serves them, and can exercise genuine charity and be a partner in the work of bringing divine creation to perfection. Indeed, we hold that through labor offered to God man is associated with the redemptive work of Jesus Christ" (No. 67).

The work that one does is not as important as that for which he does it. This re-establishes a certain parity, beneath distinctions -- which are sometimes unjust and scandalous -- in position and pay. A person who has done the most humble jobs in life can be of greater "value" than those people who hold positions of great prestige.

It was said that work is a participation in the creative action of God and in the redemptive action of Christ and that it is a source of personal and social growth, but we know that it is also weariness, sweat and pain. It can ennoble but it can also empty and wear down. The secret is to put one's heart into what one's hands do. It is not so much the amount or type of work done that tires us out, as much as it is the lack of enthusiasm and motivation. To the earthly motivations for work, faith adds eternal motivations: "Our works," the Book of Revelation says, "will follow us" (14:13).

[Translation by ZENIT]

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Father Raniero Cantalamessa is the Pontifical Household preacher. The readings for this Sunday are Malachi 4:1-2a; 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12; Luke 21:5-19.

 

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