May 1

St. Joseph the Worker

The feast day of St. Joseph the Worker was established by Pope Pius XII in 1955. No doubt, the feast's theme and day were reactions to the worker's holiday that Communism celebrated from the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 until the fall the Soviet Union in 1989. Concern for the working class was not unique to Marxism. Christianity, too, held labor in high esteem, for the foster father of Christ was a semi-skilled carpenter.

First Reading: Genesis 1:262:3

1:26 God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth." 1:27 God created man in his own image. In God's image he created him; male and female he created them. 1:28 God blessed them. God said to them, "Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth." 1:29 God said, "Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. 1:30 To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food"; and it was so.

1:31 God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. There was evening and there was morning, a sixth day.

2:1 The heavens and the earth were finished, and all their vast array. 2:2 On the seventh day God finished his work which he had made; and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had made. 2:3 God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy, because he rested in it from all his work which he had created and made.

This few verses from Genesis presented the height of creation. Humanity was God's crowning achievement. Humanity was created in the divine image and likeness. To humanity, he gave stewardship over the earth (1:28-30). In this one command, God gave work true dignity. We are to work, not just for personal gain but for the good of all, including creation. Stewardship gives us rights and responsibilities on a scale far beyond my own interest. Implicitly, we are to develop creation for the glory of God. We are to confirm what God said. Everything that God has made is very good.

In the first creation story of Genesis, God rested on the seventh day after his work was complete. But the work of humanity, our work, had just begun.

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Second Reading: Colassians 3:14-15, 17, 23-24

14 But, upon all these, (clothe yourselves) with) love, which is the bind of perfection. 15 Let the peace of CHRIST preside in your hearts, in which you call into one body. Become a thank-filled (people).

17 Everything, whatever you might do in word or deed, (do) all in the name of the LORD JESUS, giving thanks to God through him.

23 Whatever you do, work from a (willing) spirit as for the LORD, not for men, 24 knowing that you will receive repayment of an inheritance from the LORD. You are serving the LORD CHRIST.

The author of the letter to the Colossians (Paul?) wrote to a community torn by conflicting influences. Some insisted on following a strict Judaism (2:11 and 2:16, 21). Others told the congregation to follow the road of revealed wisdom (the worship of "angels" in 2:18). The author proposed the same message that founded the community, a life in Christ. The attitude of the assembly should be one of mutual concern, have a sense of unity and give thanks to God (3:14-15).

In a supportive community, the reasons for daily life change. One should work, according to Colassians, not for personal gain alone, but as a dedication to the Lord (3:17, 23). Do this, and you will receive the true reward (3:24a). After all, the true source of work is service to God (3:24b).

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Gospel: Matthew 13:54-58

54 Having come to his home region, (HE) kept teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and say, "Where did this (MAN get) this wisdom and (these miraculous) powers? 55 Is this not the SON of the carpenter? Is not HIS mother named 'Mary' and his brothers 'James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas?' 56 Are not all of HIS sisters with us? Where, then, (did) this (MAN get) all these (things)?" 57 They were scandalized by HIM. But, JESUS said to them, "A prophet is not dishonored except in (his) home district and his family." 58 HE did not perform many (miraculous) powers there, because of their unbelief.

13:54 "home region" can also be translated "hometown" (i.e., Nazareth).

13:54 "Is this not the SON of the carpenter?" In Mark 6:3, the verse read "Is this not the carpenter?"

13:55 "his family" is literally "his house." "House" in this sense is a clan, an extended family ruled by a patriarch.

13:57 "A prophet is not dishonored except in (his) home district and his family." Many scholars believe this phrase is a Semitic proverb. The number of negatives ("No") in the sentence made its meaning emphatic. Jesus rejected those who rejected him.

The rejection of Jesus by the people of Nazareth should not be surprising. How does the old saying go, "Familiarity breeds contempt." The tense of the verb in 13:54 indicated that Jesus tried to teach in Nazareth, but the people there would have none of it. They rejected not only his teaching, but his reputation and his powers; these raised Jesus beyond the status of a mere semi-skilled construction worker. Jesus was a traveling holy man now, not the local young man they thought they knew. The response of the towns folk was interesting. They posed a string of rhetorical questions in an A-B-A format. 13:54b and 13:56b asked the same: "Where did Jesus get this (wisdom and power)?" These two identical questions only highlighted the core of their response. "Who is this guy?" they seemed to say. "His family is on our side." Their comment meant to drive a wedge between Jesus and his clan. Jesus was on his own. So, he responded in like manner.

Not only was Jesus rejected, his work was rejected, a toil that brought God glory. Because of gossip and petty turf battles, the locals in Nazareth rejected what God was doing in their midst.

Too sad, too sad.

The dignity of work lies in its relationship to the Creator, not in its utility or its financial gain. Work, from digging trenches to theorizing the nature of a black hole, has inherent worth. The worker, any worker, has the right to that dignity. Work, no matter at what level, deserves respect, both socially and financially.

What are your attitudes toward work? How does your work give glory to God?