Here’s another former post of mine from the Hardest Question, this one from the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost. This one is focused on the epistle reading from Thessalonians.
Epistle Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
For Year C 26th Sunday after Pentecost
There was a time when one could read this passage and not think immediately about the polarizing political conversation over welfare, unemployment and living wages. Alas, this is not such a time.
So let’s just get the first thing out of the way, then: This is not a text about the morality of hard labor, a rejection of the idea of welfare, or an admonition toward some Puritanical work ethic.
This is Not American Idle
In other words, Paul is not writing this to Americans. Paul did not confront a homeless man on the streets of Thessalonica and tell him to get a job. Paul is addressing a group of Jesus followers who stopped working not because they had no work ethic but because they thought Jesus was coming back soon enough that “wordly” matters such as work were no longer relevant. They were attempting to keep their eyes on the prize, as it were.
Of course, they were wrong…and not only about the timing. Paul didn’t tell them to hang up their hats and sit around waiting for Jesus’ triumphant return. He told them to live upright lives and not bring attention to themselves and let their example speak for itself. Paul told them to keep on keeping on, just as he was doing.
Because of the specificity of this situation, and because as far as I know there aren’t any communities struggling with idleness due to their belief in Jesus’ imminent return, the preacher is left with a text that seems pretty irrelevant.
So now what?
Is it enough to have a reminder that we should keep on keeping on? (Did we think we had any other choice?)
Right to Work
I think the summary of Paul’s letter is still worthy of reflection: do not be weary in doing what is right. And, ironically enough, perhaps that should lead us back where we started: with issues like unemployment and living wages and homelessness and economic inequality. And there’s no need to stop there. Our world is filled with places and spaces desperate for what is “right,” for what we call justice or shalom or the Kingdom of God.
It’s not about having a right to work but about working for what’s right.
The Hardest Question
So there’s our question: are we idle in doing what is right?
Can we please not make this about welfare?
What to do with a passage that seems pretty irrelevant?
Are we idle in doing what is right?