Making our work meaningful

Al Cariño, OMI
Editor: Mindanao Cross
Reproduced with Permission

16th Sunday in ordinary times


Among Semitic peoples (Jews and Arabs alike), hospitality is the norm in dealing with strangers included protection and the right of asylum. They even have a ritual for it: wash their feet, give them shelter and offer them a meal.

This practice is rooted in the past. In their history, there had been instances when a stranger to whom their ancestors were hospitable turned out to be God's emissary (angel). We have an example of this in the first reading (Gen. 18:1–10). Abraham, seeing three men standing near his tent, went to and greeted them, bowed to the ground, had their dusty feet washed and a meal prepared for them. His hospitality was turned into a blessing — the three were God's emissaries, one of whom told him that God would fulfill His promise of giving him a descendant the following year.

While Jesus was ministering in Samaria on His way to Jerusalem, He, with His disciples, visited Martha and Mary, sisters of Lazarus (Lk. 10: 38–42). Both extended hospitality to them — each in her own way. Martha attended to their needs in true Semitic fashion while Mary reclined at Jesus's feet, listening to Jesus. Martha, who was burdened with much serving, later approached and asked Jesus to tell her sister to help her. To which Jesus replied, “Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Jesus message to her and His disciples was very clear: His person and word had primacy; everything else was secondary.

There is a way of working feverishly which leaves us empty. This happens when we leave God out of the picture. Then we work for selfish motives — to be admired by others specially by the boss, to bring down our “competitors” through intrigues in order to get a promotion, etc. When our work is not appreciated, we sulk. All these often leave us empty, spent and even feeling guilty.

There is also way of praying that leaves us empty. This happens specially when in prayer we do all the talking instead of spending moments of silence to listen to what God has to say, discover His will for us and then align our work and other activities with what pleases Him.

It is no coincidence that Luke places the account of the visit right after the return of the 72 disciples whom Jesus sent on a mission to the villages in Samaria and the narration of the parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the lawyer's question, “Who is my neighbor.” While the focus of these two events was on action, i.e., work, Jesus' visit with Martha and Mary was on listening, i.e. prayer. And He made clear which of the two was more important: talking of Mary who “sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak,” He told Martha that “Mary has chosen the better part.”

Obviously, Jesus was not saying that work, as Martha was doing, was bad or of no use. Both are necessary though listening to Jesus (prayer) is “the better part.” In the words of theologians, Martha has chosen the way of action while Mary the way of contemplation.

In our day to day life, action and contemplation, work and prayer, should not be looked at as opposites but as complementary. Just as prayer should lead to action under God's inspiration, work should bring us back to prayer — to discover before God whether we are doing His will or just advancing our pet interests, sometimes, even at the expense of ourselves or of others. As much as we need to work, we also need to pray — to be alone with God — in order to make our work, our life, meaningful.

In short, we should strive to arrive at a balance between work and prayer, action and contemplation in order to make work become meaningful and grace–filled. How? By doing what Jesus wants us to do amidst our work: He wants us to find Him in our daily work. This we can do by spending time in prayer, by talking with and listening to God — before and after work or even as we do it. To paraphrase St Paul, whether we eat or drink, let us do so for the glory of God.

I recall a story of a man who went to a construction site and talked to some laborers. To his question, “What are you doing here?” one who was pushing a wheelbarrow answered, “I mix cement.” Another who was carrying a piece of wood answered, “I make doors.” A third one who was hammering a nail answered: “I am building a cathedral which will echo with praise, adoration and thanksgiving for God.” This last had vision which was obviously born out of prayer.

Amidst our hectic preoccupations with making a living or succeeding in our chosen careers, let us not overlook one essential element: prayer, i.e., to sit at the feet of Jesus and listen to Him — the source of the motivation that make our work not only meaningful but also pleasing before God and men.

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