September 3, 2012 - Labor Day

Genesis 1.26-2.3 OR Genesis 2.4b-9, 15 OR 1 Thessalonians 4.1b-2, 9-12 OR 2 Thessalonians 3.6-12, 16
Psalm 90.2, 3-5a, 12-13, 14+16 Resp. 17b OR Psalm 127.1, 2 Resp. 1ac
Matthew 6.21-34 OR Matthew 25.14-30

The problem the St. Paul is confronting with the Thessalonians is referred to by economists as the tragedy of the commons. It is why communism does not work. Because of the ideal that Jesus put forward, like in this Gospel, the early Christians set up communes, but these were given up before very long. Communism does work in monasteries and convents where people work as much as they can and take as little as they need. It will always fail in the larger world where people work as little as they can and take as much as they want.

The problem with communism is reflected in our psalm today: “Lord, give success to the work of our hands.” Humans need to have that dignity which comes from seeing the work of their hands. To build something and then step back and say, “I built that” is a great feeling. Ideally, every human job would lead to this feeling. “I built that; I wrote that; I made that; I fixed that; I cleaned that; I healed them; I taught them.” St. Paul’s concern is not just anger about these freeloaders. He is concerned for them, because of what happens when a person stops working.

Not that capitalism is the perfect solution either. Many people work in jobs that either are fundamentally useless or are a small, repetitive part of the larger task. They are not able to have pride in their work. This is what happens when the economy is driven by money rather than respect for human labor. Just because a business process is more efficient does not mean that it is right.

Labor Day is not only a chance to celebrate human labor and to thank God for the gift of our own labor, but a call to justice. There is no perfect economic system because no system can compensate for human selfishness and greed, but we can do better than we are doing right now. Many people are forced to do menial tasks in order to provide for their families. Many people do not receive a just wage for their work. We have an obligation to do better. We cannot just pass this responsibility off, blaming government and greedy business owners. Everyone who benefits from the work of another has a responsibility to that person.