Armodoxy for Today: Labor and Work
Here in America, we pause from our busy schedules every September to give a nod to our work. In other countries, they have worker’s days honoring the laborer, but here we honor the work itself and refer to this holiday as Labor Day.
For most people, I would say work is something we do because we have to. We like to eat, have a roof over our head and enjoy time with family and friends. Those things take money to acquire and so, to raise that money, we work. From early on, we make calculations and pass those calculations on to our children. If you want to live this particular lifestyle, you will need $xxx. Job xyz can provide you with enough capital to sustain that lifestyle.
A small number of people will select their life’s work based on their passion, even if the monetary rewards are insufficient to live on. And the truly blessed people are those who enjoy their work, and the monetary reward from the work is enough to sustain them without needing supplemental assistance – whether a second or third job, or a hand-out.
This may sound a bit like economics and philosophy mixed together and one may wonder what this has to do with our Christian faith. Well it has everything to do with it. Work provides certain rewards. When the rewards outweigh the purpose of the work, then desire for those rewards become the motivating force for work, for labor, for doing what we do.
Think of this: some say that gambling is wrong. Why? Every time we leave our homes, every time we sit in a car, we are gambling with our lives. Life if full of uncertainty and we gamble with our lives and much more. But the reason why gambling for money winds up high on the negativity scale is because it distorts our perception and understanding of what is valuable. Money is no longer a means by which we acquire the things we want, rather it becomes the object of what we want, our desires. It gives value to something that has no intrinsic value. A million dollars in a bank account only exists on paper. It is the number one with six zeros behind it. But when $1,000,000 is used, to buy shelter, an education, health services, act of charity, then it has a value! Money is not the object of our labor, it is the means by which we accomplish those things we need to accomplish.
Catholic and Protestant work ethics have evolved through the century. Here in the West, the Protestant work ethic, developed from the time of Martin Luther and John Calvin, is the struggle between discipline, frugality and taming the wants and the desires of a person. In the Armenian Church (and traditional Churches) we label these as seven deadly sins – anger, lust, gluttony, laziness, covetousness, pride and envy – all connected to the struggle we engage in daily.
Labor Day is a holiday and like most other holidays, the meaning is lost in vacations, excursions and sales. But for us, we will take this moment for introspection, asking ourselves the hard questions – the what and why of our work. Purpose and meaning come from this introspection.
We leave with this mediation from our Lord Jesus Christ, “Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” So they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
…Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty… Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever… (John 6)