On this Labor Day weekend, we pause as a nation and thank God for our job and profession, thanking Him for all those who work and offer their time and talents through whatever their professions and services may be. If we love what we do, thank God. If we don’t love what we do, yet we have work that sustains and supports us in this world, thank God. And even if we have a job we don’t love, remember that our work and our profession shouldn’t be what primarily identify who we are. We can still give thanks in each and every circumstance.
This is what I want us to turn our focus to today. Think about what your job is, what your profession is, and how you see yourself in whatever you do every day. Many people find their primary identity in what they do. Yet, it’s interesting how in the teachings of Jesus Christ and in the writings throughout the New Testament, we don’t really see any emphasis on one’s profession. In relation to one’s pursuit for the kingdom of God and in one’s desire to inherit eternal life, which today’s Gospel reading focused on, it doesn’t really matter what our job is.
We can be a professional – a doctor or nurse, pharmacist or engineer, a teacher or in IT; we can be a tradesman like an electrician or plumber, a real estate agent, a roofer or a police officer; we can be a sanitation worker or a janitor. In our journey toward eternal life, it doesn’t really matter what our profession is (as long as it isn’t a profession that exploits others). What truly matters is how we live our lives and live out our professions. Can we be a Christ-centered nurse or teacher or UPS driver?
We don’t have to become a priest or a missionary, a monk or nun to seek first the kingdom of heaven. This may be a special calling for some of us, and I thank God every day for my own calling to the priesthood, yet our calling is to live out a life in Christ regardless of what our profession is. To offer a Christ-like witness in whatever our profession is. In whatever we do, can we do it with love and kindness, with integrity and honesty, with humility and sacrifice. As Saint Paul says, “in whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.
In the early church, it’s interesting to see that it didn’t matter if one was a servant or an aristocrat, rich or poor; in whatever condition you found yourself, you were loved by God, you were freed by Christ, and you were called to live out your circumstances glorifying Him.
In the daily meditations I send out, we are presently reading through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Even though Paul is in prison and possibly faces death, he writes that his circumstances don’t really matter. He can glorify God wherever he is and in whatever circumstances he finds himself. This is the spirit that we carry in whatever job or profession we may have. Whether we do something we passionately love or do something that simply pays the bills, can we see each opportunity as a chance to glorify God, to serve Him through the people we work with? Can we offer a witness of love and goodness to others in whatever we do? Can we humbly serve and sacrifice for others through our labor and work?
Thus, on this Labor Day weekend, let’s reflect on how our faith and our work should intersect; our faith in Jesus Christ should impact and influence whatever work we do.
We can connect this theme with today’s Gospel story. We see a rich young man approach Jesus and ask what he must do to inherit eternal life. We don’t know if this young man became rich through his hard work, through his family inheritance, or in some other way. It doesn’t matter. We simply see him seek guidance and direction from Christ.
Jesus doesn’t ask the young man what his profession is. That’s not important. In the past, our Lord had soldiers and tax-collectors, fishermen and religious leaders approach Him and His response is the same to everyone. Seek first the kingdom of God and enter eternal life by following the commandments. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. These greatest of commands supersede whatever our profession may be. We can obey them in whatever we do as a job.
Follow the commandments and enter into life eternal, Christ says.
The young man, however, is not content with this answer. He believes he has followed all the commandments throughout his life – at least he has followed them by the letter of the law if not by the spirit of love – and he wants to know what else he needs to do.
When Jesus looks into his heart, He sees what the young man is still lacking. What is hindering this young man to completely give His life over to God? Christ sees the man’s connection to his possessions; for this particular fellow his wealth and lifestyle hinder him from completely following God. Thus, our Lord calls him out. If you want to become perfect, if you sincerely want to know what YOU need to do to enter into eternal life, then go, sell all you have, and come follow me.
The young man asked persistently what he needed to do and Christ offered the uncomfortable answer. To completely follow Jesus we can’t prioritize anything above him, not our work, not our profession, not our family, not our possessions, not our … whatever it may be. To truly follow Christ means to put Him first above all else.
Now, this doesn’t mean that Jesus is asking every person to sell all they have and give to the poor. He may say this to some, and may say something else to someone else. What it does mean to each one of us, however, is that if we want to inherit eternal life, if we want to dwell with Christ for all eternity, then we need to prioritize Him above all else. We need to allow His Spirit to influence and guide every part of our lives – not just our religious sensibilities but every part of our life, from our personal and family life, to our professional and daily life of work, to our hobbies and ways of entertainment, to every aspect of life.
As we take a break this weekend and reflect on Labor Day, let’s take the time to deeply reflect on today’s Gospel story, and ask ourselves what role God plays in our profession and work. Are we, like the young man, truly seeking to discover what must we do to inherit the kingdom of heaven, and does this pursuit relate to allow God to be present and take a central role in every aspect of our lives, including at the work place.
“In whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.”