“I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his Body, which is the Church, of which I am a minister … For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Col 1:25; 2:1).
Though today’s scriptures are part of the universal lectionary, they might well have been chosen to apply to the U.S. commemoration of Labor Day.
The author of the Letter to the Colossians reveals the profound secret that underlies the Incarnation, that God came among us, taking our flesh, so as to be united with our human labors and struggles. The baptized members of the body of Christ in the world make up the great prototype of the new humanity. We witness to the world what God’s intentions have always been for creation—a harmonious union of each person working to fulfill the vision of the Beloved Community.
This vision meets the resistance of sin, which divides humanity into competing interests, Economic systems set labor and management at odds, profit over wages, efficiency over human safety and dignity.
The Gospel from Luke 6 tells of the healing of the man with the withered hand in the synagogue on the sabbath. We meet so many people in the New Testament who are crippled, bent over and paralyzed, which deprived them of their ability to work to support themselves and their families. Was it disease, or was it injury that caused such misery? Why were there so many poor people? We only know that Jesus seeks them out and heals them as a sign of the coming of God’s Kingdom.
Labor Day celebrates the essential contributions of all working people to the general good. Meaningful work is a source of both wages and human dignity. Yet if we look at our national and global economy, we see the millions are left behind because they lack education or opportunity, who are damaged, then rejected by systems that regard labor as only one factor in the creation of wealth. The most dangerous and difficult jobs are left for the most disadvantaged workers—undocumented immigrants who work in slaughter houses, stoop labor in the fields, roofing and cement, as domestics in hotels and aides in nursing homes. Millions of others work full time or at several jobs in fast food jobs that still do not lift them above the poverty line.
We, the church, as members of the body of Christ, are called to solidarity with our brothers and sisters everywhere. Our work is to build up the common good. Our labor, whatver our gifts and contributions, is to give birth to the Kingdom of God, where right relationship, justice and mercy come together in Christ.