Job 7:1-4.6-7; 1 Corinthians 9:16-19.22-23; Mark 1:29-39
Jesus’ life was saturated with hard work. Indeed, his first recorded words, spoken to his anxious parents, set the tone for his entire life: Did you not know that I must be busy with my Father's affairs? (Lk 2:49)
During the years of his hidden life Jesus worked as a carpenter: This is the carpenter, surely, the son of Mary, the brother of James and Joset and Jude and Simon (Mk 6:3). These years of manual labour were no less the ‘business’ of his Father than his public ministry. If it can be said that he sanctified the waters of Baptism by submerging himself in the Jordan at the hands of the Baptist, it can most certainly be said that he sanctified daily toil by his ‘full immersion’ in the carpenter’s workshop at the hands of Joseph, his father.
And Jesus drew to himself men and women who were likewise accustomed to hard work. When he called Simon and Andrew they were ‘casting a net in the lake’ (Mk 1:16) and James and John were in the boat ‘mending their nets’ (Mk 1:19).
Luke’s account of their call is even more emphatic: 'Master,' Simon replied 'we worked hard all night long and caught nothing, but if you say so, I will pay out the nets.'(Lk 5:5)
In a world choking on ‘labour-saving’ devices we do well to keep in mind the beauty, value and holiness of work. The work of our sanctification is, in great part, accomplished through, and in, the day by day employment which circumstance has placed before us. So we should not make artificial and false distinctions between our spiritual life and our regular work.
Jesus reversed the image of the very authentic relationship of work to sanctification by associating sanctification with work. He conceived of his own sanctifying mission as the work of a shepherd or of a sower of seed, and even called his heavenly Father a vine-dresser (Jn 15:1). He often referred to his miracles and teachings as ‘works’: so Jesus said to them, 'I have done many good works for you to see, works from my Father; for which of these are you stoning me?' (Jn 10:32)
Naturally enough, those who followed in the footsteps of the Lord as disciples would find themselves spoken of, even by Jesus himself, as ‘labourers’: The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest (Mt 9:37). Or again (Mt 20:1): Now the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner going out at daybreak to hire workers for his vineyard.
Jesus had taught his followers that as the Father loved him, so he had loved us, and so we must love one another. In this way we would give glory to the Father.
The dynamic is true also in another sense. As the work of the Father became the work of Jesus for us, so it must become our work for others, and equally for the glory of the Father.
Speaking to his Father Jesus says: I have glorified you on earth and finished the work that you gave me to do (Jn 17:4). And speaking to us Jesus says: In the same way your light must shine in the sight of men, so that, seeing your good works, they may give the praise to your Father in heaven (Mt 5:16).
We are privileged to participate in the mission of Jesus. As the Father sent him so he sends us, and with the promise: I tell you most solemnly, whoever believes in me will perform the same works as I do myself, he will perform even greater works, because I am going to the Father (Jn 14:12).
St Paul in today’s second reading confides to us: (1 Cor 9:17) If I had chosen this work myself, I might have been paid for it but as I have not, it is a responsibility which has been put into my hands.
Truly, St Paul laboured like the Master himself. Through all sorts of trials he battled courageously for the gospel and finally gave his life. It was as though he had taken to heart the words of the Lord from John 9:4: As long as the day lasts I must carry out the work of the one who sent me; the night will soon be here when no one can work.
Paradoxically, the daily work we do, when offered to the Lord, when done for him, even strenuous daily, grinding toil, can itself become the happiness we seek, so that we can say with Jesus: My food is to do the will of the one who sent me, and to complete his work (Jn 4:34). Whether it is spending time in prayer, attending Mass, watering the garden or looking after the grandchildren, it can all bring the kingdom closer when done in his name.
Let us do everything for him. Everything. Let us bring all our labour to him and we will be at peace. This is the true meaning of his words: Come to me, all you who labour and are overburdened, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:29).