Happy Labor Day! A Christian Vision of Work
On this Labor Day weekend, we’re invited to honor human work and all human workers. It’s a secular holiday, but that doesn’t prevent us from using it to reflect on the Christian meaning of work.
As Christians, we know that our work has dignity because we’re created in the image and likeness of God. Our age has lost sight of the true dignity of work because we have lost sight of the dignity of the worker.
Christ the Worker
To grasp the dignity of work, we also need to see our work in light of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t descend from heaven like an Olympian God. He took on every human experience except sin. That included our labor. Even as a child He learned from Joseph, the carpenter. Before His public ministry, the Lord worked with wood, with His Holy hands. Certainly, he sweated, got dirty and even grew tired. But because He was in communion with His Heavenly Father, all of His work was joined to the Father’s work.
We can now have a relationship with the Father through our Baptism into Jesus Christ. Jesus, whom the author of Hebrews reminds us “knew no sin,” was not suffering its punishment when he engaged in that manual labor in Joseph’s workshop! Sin and the Fall fractured our work, so that it often becomes toil (Gen 3:19). However, work itself is not the punishment for sin.
God called Adam and Eve to work in the Garden before the Fall. For the Christian, work is meant to participate in the redemptive mission of Jesus on Earth. He was always doing the “work” of the One who sent Him (John 9:3-4). We are invited by grace to live in the same way.
The Incarnation, the saving Life, Death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus Christ, what we call the “Paschal mystery” — began to transform — not only in His followers, but also the cosmos created through Him and for Him. In fact, creation is now being re-created in Him. The work of Jesus’ redemption continues through the Church — which is placed in that creation as a seed of its transfiguration.
Our Work is Part of the Plan
This view is part of what St. Paul calls the “plan” and a “mystery” of God, to bring all things together under heaven and on earth in Christ (Eph. 1: 9-10). All things were created in Christ (Col. 1:15-20), and are now being re-created as His work continues through His Body, the Church, of which we are members.
Our “work” can be part of that extraordinary plan, when it is joined to Jesus Christ. No matter what we do, as the Apostle wrote, we should “do it as unto the Lord” (Col. 3). Our work then changes “the world,” both within us and around us. This means all work — not just the “spiritual” or “religious” work, has redemptive value.
Remember, Jesus Christ, God Incarnate, did not just do what we too often think of as the “spiritual” stuff during his earthly ministry. Every good kind of human work can sanctify and change the world which God still loves. St. Paul captured the hope of all creation when, in the eighth chapter of Romans he reminded us that all of creation “groans” for the full revelation of the sons and daughters of God. We can have a new relationship with the entire created order — beginning now — because we live in the Son, through whom and for whom it was all created and is now being re-created.
Our age desperately needs a vibrant living Christian witness of the dignity, meaning and true value of all human work. Let’s ask the Holy Spirit to renew our minds concerning all human work. (Romans 12:2) When Jesus ascended He promised He would not “leave us orphans.” (John 14:8) Jesus now lives in us and we now live in Him, through the Holy Spirit. He has made it possible for us to live our life differently, every single day, through the grace poured out through the Holy Spirit.