Who Are You Working For Today?

The full quote for today’s passage is instructive: “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.” It would be a mistake to take this passage as being merely concerned about monetary profit, or material well being. There is, of course, the reality of the physical, or intellectual hard work that is a necessary means to “earn a living.” This is a fact of life ever since The Fall of Adam and Eve. But there is another dimension to work here that we are called to reflect on as well; the spiritual dimension.

At the strictly material level, we can look at the idea of work in two ways: as a drudgery, or as a source of our human dignity. If we see things only from a material perspective, we are prone to make the mistake of judging that some work, because of things like titles, or the size of income, is more valuable, or more dignified than other kinds of work. All human work, great and small, is meaningful and a potential source of human dignity. Because the world judges the value of work or human dignity only from a purely economic, and materialistic point of view, economic injustices of all kinds abound in our society. But because this passage comes to us from Holy Scripture, we are challenged to recognize that this passage is not only concerned with the material world. Rather, more importantly, we are challenged to see the deeper spiritual meaning here. What is that deeper, spiritual meaning?

The hardest work we have before us, that is, the work that brings us the greatest profit and the most human dignity, is the hard work of living our lives in accord with the will of God. This is true for the great and the small among us. This work belongs to all of us, equally. None of us are free from the demands of this difficult and very important work. Neither wealth nor poverty frees us from it. Oh, we can rationalize otherwise, or we can deny its importance altogether, but there would clearly be no profit in that. And all of us have much to learn about the matters of the spirit, of the soul. Such learning and practice is the hardest work in our lives.

Our material lives are limited. No matter how great or how small, we are all going to die. As the anonymous, Christian author of the great Medieval Morality Play, “Everyman,” tells us, we are all going to be called to an accounting before God. At our judgment, our material wealth, or our “social standing” will not speak for us. The only things that we will be measured by will be our deeds, good or bad. Have we done the truly hard work of honoring the commandment of Christ to, love one another as he loves us. This will be the only measure by which we will be judged. This work is of the highest importance. Will our spiritual account book be weighted by the quality of the labors of love that we have undertaken in our lives with our families, our neighbors, and yes, even our enemies, or will it be lacking in those things? Or will we have been all talk and no action? These are the questions each one of us must answer in the silence and the solitude of our own souls, in the presence of God.

Yes, Lord, “all hard work brings its profits [and] mere talk leads only to poverty.” Whether we are great or small, we pray that you give us the graces we need to see, to understand, and to take on the hard work of love in this life, so that we may reap the only profits worthy of our eternal souls, your mercy and our eternal lives with you in your heavenly kingdom. We pray this believing in the power of your holy name, Jesus. Amen!

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Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site blog.