A sermon given during the 10:30am Choral Eucharist, by The Rt Rev’d Chris McLeod, on the 13th of November 2022.
Text: 2 Thess 3: 6 -13
‘… Anyone unwilling to work should not eat’ (2 Thess 3: 10)
Sounds a bit harsh, doesn’t it?
Last week, you will remember, in the Gospel reading Jesus says to ‘give to anyone who begs from you. This week we have Paul saying, ‘anyone unwilling to work should not eat.’ This can be very confusing. It seems to me at first glance, anyway, that Scripture is saying two different things. However, we do find at times Scripture seems to contradict itself. We can then play the favourite text game. That is, we choose the text we like the best and stick with that. However, without diminishing the tensions that do occur in the Bible, I think understanding the context often gives us the clue on what is being said.
There was a degree of immaturity in the Church at Thessalonica, as well as some confusion about what they had been taught about the Christian faith and the ‘Day of the Lord’. There was persecution from the Roman Empire and tensions with the Synagogue, as well. There were some in the Thessalonian Church who had slipped into idleness and were drawing on the good will of others and refusing to work and provide for their own needs. If could have been that they were in some position of leadership and expected to be taken care of. They were, perhaps, what we might call the idle rich and from a position of privilege expected to have special treatment – to be provided for instead of providing for others. Some scholars have suggested that the group of idle busybodies thought the ‘Day of Lord’ was going to arrive so soon that they need not bother to work. Whatever the case, we see that Paul’s words about work are not in contrast with ‘providing for those who beg’. The context is different with the beggar being in circumstances because of poverty. We would be well to remember there was no welfare in the ancient world.
- The Gift of Paid work
Paul has left us with principles that are good for us to draw upon, however.
Firstly, work is good! Working provides for our own needs and helps to supply the needs of others. Working is good for the community, the Church community and wider community. By working we help the community around us be a healthy place for everyone.
Secondly, working is good for our own self-esteem. It feels good to do a good day’s work, get paid, and then contribute to the health and wellbeing not only of ourselves and our family, but to others as well. It is good to provide!
- The Gift of Volunteer Work
However, what about those who have come to the end of their paid working life or cannot find paid work? The church in this diocese and throughout the world depends on the contribution and work of volunteers. At the Cathedral we would be totally impoverished without volunteers and simply not be able to do all that we are called to do. Volunteering is such an important part of our Christian ministry. Just about everything that can be said about paid work can be applied to volunteer work. It is such a valuable contribution to the community. Volunteer also provides and is good!
Paul has left us with some, perhaps unintended, insights into work. The value of work, paid or unpaid, cannot be underestimated. We may not say now ‘… anyone unwilling to work should not eat’, but we would certainly encourage work to be done, work to be found, and work to be provided.