Above: A sign from Matewan, West Virginia, site of a massacre of miners in 1920 (from the West Virginia Archives)
Affirming the Dignity of Work in Words and Deeds
SEPTEMBER 4, 2017
Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 38:27-32a (New Revised Standard Version):
So it is with every artisan and master artisan
who labors by night as well as by day;
those who cut the signets of seals,
each is diligent in making a great variety;
they set their heart on painting a lifelike image,
and they are careful to finish their work.
So it is with the smith, sitting by the anvil,
intent on his iron-work;
the breath of the fire melts his flesh,
and he struggles with the heat of the furnace;
the sound of the hammer deafens his ears,
and his eyes are on the pattern of the object.
He sets his heart on finishing his handiwork,
and he is careful in its decoration.
So it is with the potter sitting at his work
and turning the wheel with his feet;
he is always deeply concerned over his products,
and he produces them in quantity.
He molds the clay with his arm
and makes it pliable with his feet;
he sets his heart to finish the glazing,
and he takes care in firing the kiln.
All these rely on their hands,
and all are skillful in their own work.
Without them no city can be inhabited,
and wherever they live, they will not go hungry.
Psalm 107:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version):
O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Let the redeemed of the LORD say so,
those he redeemed from trouble
and gathered in from the lands,
from the east and from the west,
from the north and from the south.
Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to an inhabited town;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress;
he led them by a straight way,
until they reached an inhabited town.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wonderful works to humankind.
For he satisfies the thirsty,
and the hungry he fills with good things.
Psalm 90:1-2, 16-17 (New Revised Standard Version):
Lord, you have been our dwelling place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
Let your work be manifest to your servants,
and your glorious power to their children.
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us,
and prosper for us the work of our hands–
O prosper the work of our hands!
1 Corinthians 3:10-14 (New Revised Standard Version):
According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward.
Matthew 6:19-24 (New Revised Standard Version):
Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
“The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
All honest work has dignity. I hear and read this sentiment from some politicians and business people whom I suspect do not believe it, for their deeds belie their words. As I have indicated elsewhere on this blog, “Deeds reveal creeds.” When a corporate CEO continues policies of not paying living wages I do not believe that he or she thinks that all work has dignity. A corporate chief who exports jobs to the third world, where wages are lower and safety regulations are weak or non-extant, cares most about the bottom line. And when miners in poor, rural regions of the United States die needlessly year after year because the mining corporations for which they work do not maintain the maximum possible level of safety, I know that those who occupy corner offices at headquarters do not think positively about the dignity of the work their employees do. And politicians the soulless corporations have bought off or who have subscribed to the idolatry of the market as the arbiter of morality do not believe in the dignity of all honest work, either.
These are moral issues. Living wages, sufficient benefits packages, workplace safety, and whistleblower protection are matters of morality. My North American society is one in which those who make society function–teachers, social workers, police officers, and fire fighters, for example–earn much less than many professional athletes. This fact tells me that society places higher value of what a relative few do with baseballs, basketballs, and footballs than on the crucial work of our educational, public safety, and social work professionals.
This a matter of values. (I do not concede the issue of values to far-right wing theocrats, would-be theocrats, and union-busting governors and legislators.) And it is an issue of my nation’s collective soul. Life, Jesus said, does not consist of the abundance of possessions. Our Lord and Savior was no Gordon Gecko, from Oliver Stone’s movie, Wall Street. Do you remember that movie? Gecko, who was indeed well-named (for he had the morality of a reptile), said, “Greed is good.” No, people matter far more than wealth and material possessions. That is a value I want to hear uttered more often and see demonstrated more frequently.
Revised on March 12, 2011