Catholic News Service
Work is an essential dimension of human existence. From our waking moments to the rest we enjoy at the day’s end, work occupies daily life. So, what does the Bible say about work?
In Genesis, the meaning of human work emerges within God’s original creative activity as “God blessed them and God said to them: Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it” (Gn 1:28).
After Adam and Eve fell, work became paradoxical. Labor is experienced as harsh, burdensome toil, now part of fallen humanity. Yet, work bears within it the immense gift and responsibility of partaking in God’s ongoing creative activity in the world.
This paradox of work is given definitive Christian meaning in the life and example of Jesus, a man of work. The witness that Jesus gives to the dignity and value of work offers a profound biblical spirituality of work.
Jesus worked for most of his earthly life at a carpenter’s bench in his home at Nazareth. Those who encountered him asked, “Is he not the carpenter?” (Mk 6:3). The little known from Scripture about the hidden life of Jesus indicates nothing outstanding or glamorous about his work.
From a young age, Jesus engaged in ordinary, manual work with humble materials of wood, nails, dust and carpenters’ tools. He learned skilled craftsmanship from Joseph. The work of their hands provided for the practical, everyday needs of the Holy Family, showing that daily work can genuinely express self-sacrificing love for others in family and in community.
Jesus’ example of humble, manual labor is an eloquent “gospel of work,” said St. John Paul II in “Laborem Exercens,” indicating that the value of human work is based not on the kind of work done but the fact that the one working is a person.
Jesus showed that work is meant to sanctify daily life, bringing God’s presence into the activities and moments of each day.
During his public ministry, Jesus valued the dignity of various kinds of work. In his parables, Jesus evoked imagery from labor and trades common in his day, highlighting the work of a shepherd, farmer, doctor, steward, fisherman, householder and merchant.
And he compared the mission of his disciples to the work of harvesters and fishermen when he said, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mt 4:19).
With Mary, Joseph was the one to whom God entrusted his only divine Son. Joseph fulfilled his unique task of guarding and raising Jesus, known as the “carpenter’s son,” with humility and quiet contemplation, making him a model of humble, fruitful work (Mt 13:55).
It was precisely in the ordinariness of daily, silent labor that the Son of God prepared himself for his saving work of redeeming the world and reconciling us to friendship with God.
By engaging in work, Jesus takes up all work into the mystery of his incarnation, death and resurrection, giving true redemptive meaning to work that builds up and flourishes the kingdom of God on earth.
— Jem Sullivan
Sullivan, professor and writer, is the author of “The Beauty of Faith: Using Art to Spread the Good News.”
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Prayer to St. Joseph the Worker
Joseph, by the work of your hands and the sweat of your brow, you supported Jesus and Mary, and had the Son of God as your fellow worker.
Teach me to work as you did, with patience and perseverance, for God and for those whom God has given me to support. Teach me to see in my fellow workers the Christ who desires to be in them, that I may always be charitable and forbearing towards all.
Grant me to look upon work with the eyes of faith, so that I shall recognize in it my share in God’s own creative activity and in Christ’s work of our redemption, and so take pride in it.
When it is pleasant and productive, remind me to give thanks to God for it. And when it is burdensome, teach me to offer it to God, in reparation for my sins and the sins of the world.
(Prayer from the booklet “Devotions to St. Joseph” by Brian Moore, SJ.)
Catholic News Service