Jesus knew what hard work was all about. For most of his life, he toiled as a carpenter building and making repairs to homes. When there was not enough carpentry work, he would have hired himself out as a day laborer in the fields harvesting grain and olives. He knew what it was like to have to work under the hot sun. He knew what it was like to have a bad day, to have someone yell at him because they were not happy with his work or to have someone refuse to pay him. There were probably many nights when he came home and wanted to just go straight to bed.
The hard work did not end, however, when he decided to hang up his carpentry belt to preach the Kingdom of God. There were many long days traveling from town to town, preaching to crowds and healing the sick. People were always pressing in on him from all sides sometimes just to get a look at the wonder worker from Galilee and other times to hopefully be cured. As we see in today’s gospel, Jesus got little rest. But he kept pressing forward, despite the difficulties, to do the will of his Heavenly Father.
Of course, his greatest work was that which he accomplished on the cross, dying to save us. It was obviously very difficult, but he endured it all out of love. And because of his great love, he turned what would otherwise have been a great tragedy into a source of salvation and hope for the whole world.
Work is an unavoidable part of the human condition, and all work involves some drudgery as Job tells us in the first reading. There are the sore muscles and fatigue that come from hard manual labor. There is the stress and anxiety of trying to meet deadlines. There is dealing with people who are often never happy no matter what we do. And there is the frustration and feelings of failure that come from looking for work in a challenging economy. Work whether it is in an office, in the home or in the classroom is never easy.
However, as Christians, we look at work as more than a way to earn a living. Through faith we understand that it is a way for us to cooperate with God in transforming the world. God wants to use us and our work to make the world a better place. So all of our work, no matter how menial or insignificant it may seem, is a way of helping to build the Kingdom of God.
Consider this. All of us are wearing clothes made by people we have never met. They got up early in the morning, took their places at their sewing machines and got to work. It may not have occurred to them that they were doing anything meaningful, but because of their work we have clothing to keep us warm. All thanks to people we have never met. The same is true of the cars we drive, the houses we live in and the food we eat. All of those things which are so necessary for our well-being are the result of someone’s hard work.
The same is true for our work. Whatever we do, no matter how trivial it may seem, it is doing someone an immense amount of good. God is using it to make someone’s life better. We may never see it and we may never be thanked for it, but it is real and we should take pride in it.
In today’s society, it is common for us to separate our faith from our work. It is not always clear to us how our worship on Sunday should transform our work on Monday. However, for believers, all things are transformed by love. Just as by love Jesus transformed the cross into a means of salvation, just so through love we transform our work from mere drudgery into a means of holiness for us.
A cardinal tells the story of a time he was walking through the streets of Rome on his way to the Vatican. A street sweeper greeted him and asked, “Your Excellency, are you on your way to see the Pope?” The cardinal answered, “Yes.” The man then continued, “I’m sure you will be making many important decisions today. But if I sweep these streets with love, it will be equally important in the eyes of God.” And the cardinal replied, “It certainly will be.”
When our work is difficult, when it seems demeaning, when we feel as though we cannot go on, we should offer it all up to God in love. When we feel overwhelmed, when people are pressing us to do more and more, when we are too tired to even think straight, we can give it all to our Heavenly Father and ask Him to help us. By offering it all up for the love of God and for the conversion of sinners, we can transform our work into a means of salvation for ourselves and for the world.
When we bring our love for God into the workplace it will also have a transforming effect on the people we work with. They will notice how we complain less than others, how we avoid gossip and backstabbing and how peaceful we are even under stress. They will wonder what is different about us and ask us about the joy we have. Then we can witness to them about the love of God which changes all things.
Jesus promises that he will make all things work for good for those who will love and follow him. That means that he will use our work, no matter how tedious it may seem, to do good for the world. If we embrace it with love, it can transform us and our world. All we have to do is take our faith to work with us on Monday and let God take care of the rest.