An interesting question, don’t you think? Using the example of mowing another’s lawn, George Mason University economist, Walter Williams, explored this very topic (Understanding Liberals, Creators, 2011). He writes:
“For doing so, you pay me $20. I go to my grocer and demand, “Give me 2 pounds of steak and a six-pack of beer that my fellow man produced.” In effect, the grocer asks, “Williams, you’re asking your fellow man to serve you. Did you serve him?” I reply, “Yes.” The grocer says, “Prove it.”
That’s when I pull out the $20 I earned from serving my fellow man. We can think of that $20 as “certificates of performance.” They stand as proof that I served my fellow man. It would be no different if I were an orthopedic doctor, with a large clientele, earning $500,000 per year by serving my fellow man. By the way, having mowed my fellow man’s lawn or set his fractured fibula, what else do I owe him or anyone else? What’s the case for being forced to give anything back? If one wishes to be charitable, that’s an entirely different matter.”
Work, then, may be seen as a two-fold expression. On one hand, work is practical from the perspective that it allows us to exchange our efforts for goods and services that we deem necessary. On the other hand, work is meant to be charitable, for it acknowledges that we creatures are just that—creatures. Having been endowed by our Creator with unique skills, we are called to serve Him by giving service to our fellow man. In doing so, our abilities allow us to not just “make a living” but to also “make a life.”
Not surprisingly, Sacred Scripture has much to say regarding work, especially in regard to the practice and precepts of “good works.”
In the Gospel of John (15:16), Jesus reminds each of us that the rewards of our labor should not be a passing thing. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”
In his Letter to the Galatians (6:8), St. Paul continues in this harvest imagery. “For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.”
And in heeding the words of the Lord and Apostle, Wisdom (Eccles 7:11-13) speaks to our hearts: “Wisdom is good with an inheritance, an advantage to those who see the sun. For the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money; and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom preserves the life of him who has it. Consider the work of God; who can make straight what he has made crooked?”
Given all of this, what may we say then about “this work,” “this life,” and “this time?”
To this regard, all we can be certain of is that it is uniquely ours. Also, too, that our talents and skills have been bestowed upon us by the One who created the world, came among us as a child, subjected Himself to Crucifixion, and rose from the dead in order to prepare a place for us.
So what does He ask of us? That through our daily efforts, actions, and work, that we assist Him in bringing about His Divine plan. In our work, may we see that when God calls us, it is not merely to serve ourselves. But rather, it is to serve others, too! Even in the mundane, may we pray for vision and insight to see our actions and compassion toward one another as not only necessary and divinely willed, but a requirement of we humans as we go about the task of serving our fellow man.