The First day of May is celebrated worldwide as “Workers’ Day”. Pope Pius XII instituted the feast of “St. Joseph, the worker” as St. Joseph is the patron and inspirer for all the workers. The Gospels identify Jesus as the “Son of the Carpenter”. Jesus must have been trained by Joseph in both the satisfactions and in the drudgery of that vocation. The Blessed Virgin Mary and the Child Jesus were entrusted to the care of St. Joseph and so he must have worked hard to care for them and to feed them. He must have taken care of all their necessities by his hard labour. He must have taught Jesus the same profession as a carpenter. Jesus also helped St. Joseph in his workshop.
Such an exemplary life reminds us that every worker has a dignity and even the so called “menial and blue-collar workers” are valued before the eyes of God. What really makes one a dignified worker before people and God is not the high esteemed posts or high yielding salaries but the commitment and faithfulness one displays in his work. The Holy Bible speaks of a God who always insists on the importance of working hard and who respects one who toils on the soil. “The Lord God then took the man and settled him in the Garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it” (Gen 2:15). God invited man to be a partner in his creative activity: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28).
The work should bring forth the hidden talents of man and bring satisfaction and fulfillment. But it has become a burden and hardship and even drudgery because of sin. This is clear from the curse imposed on man after the fall. “By the sweat of their brow they shall eat” (Gen 3:19). Man should not become like a machine. He needs a time for work and time for rest. Hence Yahweh commanded Israel, “No one shall appear before me empty handed. Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest” (Ex 34:20).
Jesus brought back the dignity of labour as he was born as a son of a carpenter. Hence St. Paul says, “But we appeal to you, brothers and sisters, to respect those who labour among you, and have charge of you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thes 5:12-13). Besides he warns us, “For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat” (2 Thes 3:10).
Today the dignity of labour is hardly recognized. The value and respect is not given to all the workers equally, due to sinful culture. Hence we need a counter culture to value everyone with equal respect and dignity as human persons. It is also a sinful culture prevalent in the society which dictates,”Minimum work and Maximum salary”. The sense of commitment and perfection in their work is a rare commodity. Hence there is a need for conversion in every section of the society with regard to labour.
St. Joseph stands as a model to us as he recognized work as a ministry entrusted to him by God and carried out with love and commitment. This is what made his life acceptable before God and man. Let us praise and thank the Lord for every moment of our work. St. Paul invites us “whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).
Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose
Bishop of Thanjavur