"WORK" - a Four-Letter Word?
Old Testament Reading- Proverbs 24:30-34
New Testament Reading- 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
By Henry J. Rafferty CP -September 4, 2022, Labor Day
In ancient Israel the land was portioned out to the different tribes, or families, that we
call the twelve tribes of Israel. Asher, Dan, Ephraim, Gad, Issachar, Manasseh, Naphtali, Reuben, Simeon, Zebulun, Judah and Benjamin. To add some idea of what I am talking about I will tell you who some of the members of these families are. Moses, his brother Aaron, and John the Baptist were in the tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe. Samson was in the tribe of Dan. Joshua and Samuel were in the tribe of Ephraim. King Saul and the apostle Paul were from the tribe of Benjamin. Kings David and Solomon, Caleb, and Jesus were from the tribe of Judah. We would understand it more by saying that these tribes and their land were like our states. Our states are independent, but still a part of the nation. The same went for the tribes and the whole nation of Israel.
These tribes governed themselves much in the same way that each state governs itself and if all went as it should the larger nation would not have to come into the picture much in their daily lives. In these ancient days though, much was run more like a family business. The whole land of the tribe was broken up into cities and smaller villages that were each managed by different parts of the same extended family. Within each village each member of the family was given land in which to feed themselves. Much of the land of Israel was hilly, so much of the land that there was to be farmed was on slopes. The first thing a family would do was build a wall that would run a certain length this would then be filled in with soil to become a terraced strip of flat ground. This piece of ground was this particular family’s own piece of ground. It was now flattened instead of sloped, and they could plant what they wanted on it, it was theirs to manage and harvest. Some families chose to grow only certain kinds of crops on their ground, which they would sell at a market, and they would buy or trade what they did not grow from someone else. Many families chose to plant multiple crops on their ground as to be more self-sufficient. Vineyards, orchards, vegetables, herbs, and grains could all be grown in this way, harvested, and processed or sold by the family that owned the ground. Each of the members of the family were required to tend the ground. Parents, children, grandparents, everyone, no one was exempt from the work. Obviously, each would do what they could do, young children and the very elderly would do what they could but were not required to do as much as those that were in their prime. In this way, each member of the family pulled their weight and contributed to the benefit of the whole family. As parents aged and were no longer able to take care of their land like they once did; they would give it to their adult children, so that the whole family continued to benefit.
Here is where it starts to get tricky. As I said before, the land was terraced, which means that each person’s usable ground was linked to the next persons by a stone wall. This stone wall was not held together with cement, but dry stacked in a proper way that would keep the wall from falling, and in turn, the ground from sliding down to the next layer. These walls were to be maintained by each family. If each family was responsible and took care of their property, then all would go as planned, but if they were not responsible and allowed their wall to fall into disrepair, then the next person’s land could be affected in a disastrous way.
Let me illustrate with a story. A small village within the tribe of Dan was located in one of these hilly regions where terraced farms or gardens were constructed. This terraced ground was there longer than anyone could remember. On them were grown acres and acres of grapes, olives, pomegranates, figs, dates, wheat, and barley. This is some of the main crops, but garlic, onions, melons, lettuce, and all other manner of greens and herbs were grown. Remember, this was a very rich land that God had provided to His people. The valley was filled with other places that benefited the people. Olive presses, grain mills, beer and wine makers, all to help each other and to benefit completely from the rich harvest, but it all took work. One day a man was plowing a field, when he hit a ground bee nest. The bees, protecting their nest, chased after the oxen that was pulling the plow and in all the chaos the oxen ran over an unsuspecting man that happened to be in the vicinity, permanently disabling the man from tending his own ground or working for a living. The community pulled together to help the man and his family, each giving of what they had to provide for the man’s family that was hurt. The man even leased out his ground so that he would have some money with the condition that when the man’s son was older the ground would return to him to tend.
This went on like this for years, as the man’s son was quite young when the accident happened. Much of the family’s attention went to helping the disabled man and without even realizing it, they had neglected the young son by never including him in anything, especially helping around the home. When the time came for the son to come into his own, the father stopped the lease payment of the land and gave it to his son to manage. Not only did the son not know how to manage or work the land, in the years of never doing anything, he became lazy and reliant on others for everything, not even appreciating what others did for him and his family. Soon the land fell into ruin, weeds covered the land, and the wind blew the seed into all the neighboring fields. The terrace wall was crumbling because no maintenance had been done in years resulting in a wall that was completely missing in spots. The areas where the wall was missing allowed soil that was saturated with rain to begin to slide out onto other terraces. At first, the community saw what was happening and thought, well we had better help out so the son can learn what to do, but when they tried to help him, he was only interested in them doing the work for him, not learning anything.
This went on for a couple years in this manner until the community had had enough. The people had done all they could do and more to help this son, but now they could see that this was of no use. What could they do with a situation like this? What would you do? It's not really an easy answer, is it? The family is not really the problem, the original man that was hurt was a pure accident, but this lazy son, who in a patriarchal culture like theirs had made a problem for his whole family because of his lack of work. It has even spread out now to the rest of the community as they have to fix what is broken and still have the burden of the work of one whole family as well as the responsibility of their own families. Really, what would you do? I know what you may be thinking, throw the man out of town and let him fend for himself while the community continues taking care of the rest of the compromised family. Sure, that’s one option, or continue to take care of them just as they have been already. Nothing seems quite right, a band-aid, not a solution. I’m not going to offer a solution either, that is up to you to ponder yourselves. What I will offer though is words that would have been preventative, not curative, I wonder sometimes if there’s really a solution for some things that have gone too far, but prevention, now that is a different matter.
The Word of God is very powerful in our lives for teaching us the right way to go. It is possible that the community could have offered to take the son to hear the word of God or that they may have taken the son to work with them when he was still young. If they had taken him to the synagogue he may have heard these words from Proverbs 24:30-34,
“I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.”
When I was young, I worked a lot with my dad and it often felt like I was being corrected more than anything else, not much fun being disciplined, but vital for your betterment. I understand now that my father was doing his job, he was doing what a father that cares about his children should do, correct them. I was in the wrong, and he corrected it, and corrected it, and corrected it, and corrected it. It seemed like a lot, but I was pretty strong willed and thankfully he didn’t give up but continued until it sunk into that thick skull of mine. Prevention in the form of a parent’s discipline and by a child that sees his parents good work ethics and makes them his own.
"... I wonder sometimes if there’s really a solution for some things that have gone too far, but prevention, now that is a different matter," ~ Pastor Henry Rafferty
My grandfather used to say, “Labor Day was a good day to work, why else would it be called that?” He was joking, or maybe not, you would have had to know my grandfather, but this holiday is not about laboring as much as it is to honor those that labor. Work is a four-letter word, but contrary to the modern way of thinking about it, work is not a bad thing. Ecclesiastes 3:12-13 tells us,
“I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God.”
In the film, "The Shawshank Redemption," a group of prisoners worked hard all day tarring the roof of the prison to be rewarded with two cold beers each. That may not seem like much to you, but imagine a prisoner, to be able to work outside like a normal person, no chains, no shackles, and to be rewarded for your hard work with something a prisoner never has legally, cold beer, and not one but two. To have the ability to work, believe it or not, is a gift of God.
When I was in the hospital, I couldn’t do anything but lay flat on my back. I was told that I may never work again, or at least in the capacity I did before. All I could do was watch others work for my benefit. It is a humbling feeling, but for me it was something else, a reason for me to want to help others, and to realize how much of a gift work really is in our lives.
When God placed us in the garden, even before original sin, He placed us there and told us to tend the garden, to work it. Paradise may not mean lying about getting a suntan but making use of the hands that God gave us. In fact, we should be very careful to whom we listen or who we emulate. Paul tells us in 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13,
“In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” We hear that some among you are idle and disruptive. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the food they eat. And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good.”
On this Labor Day weekend, let us thank God for the ability to work, and to share our proceeds with others who cannot work. Let us thank those of you who have worked your whole lives and are now able to retire from a daily job, you have earned it. Let us continue to pray for those who do not or will not work, that they may hear God’s Word and apply it to their own lives. I also want to take this time to thank you all for the work you do for God and His Church, in the tasks you perform, the care you give to His children all over the world, and the prayers you offer up to the Almighty. Remember, Jesus said, a worker is worth their wages. Those of you who do work for the Church, though you make no monetary wage, your reward will be great, because you work not for yourselves, but for God. There is still much work to be done, in fact, it never ends, but when you are working for something, you believe in, something that you love very much, something that pays not in dividends, but in treasures unseen, yet that make you feel better than anything else in this world, that is the work of God. I pray that He may strengthen us, believers from all over the world, to continue in His labor of love. Thanks be to God. Amen.