Today's Lectionary Text
Romans 8:22We know that the whole creation has been groaning together as it suffers together the pains of labor.
Deuteronomy 5:13Six days you shall labor and do all your work.
I was looking at the word “labor” in the Bible, and I noticed something. Of the 95 or so times it is mentioned in the Bible, there are two general usages of the term.
One usage describes the pain of giving birth. “As of a woman going through the pains of labor,” is referenced a lot. One pain I will never have to endure is the pain of going through labor. I’ve heard it described as pulling your bottom lip over your head and swallowing.
God talks about it as the new reality for women after leaving the Garden of Eden — painful labor. The Bible, as far as we know, was written down by men, but they clearly had a healthy respect for the pain women suffer in childbirth.
The second usage is more general, describing those who work hard and toil, and who may grow weary from their work. “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” kinds of statements. Interestingly enough, that’s the consequence for men after the Garden of Eden: Toiling in the fields, otherwise known as … labor.
Isn’t that interesting? God describes life in this world in terms of labor. The two uses of the word are essentially the same. Whether male or female, and in many different ways, we all have work to do, and it isn’t always going to be easy.
Paul talks about the whole earth groaning, as in the pangs of giving birth. Everyone is feeling the effects of hard labor. I think that’s true in our world. I see people struggling to get by, too much work for not enough pay. I see others struggling to find meaning in their work. Even retired folks can suffer from an overly full calendar, so much to do and not enough time, or not enough to do and wishing for a way to be a productive member of society.
But what are all these labor pains pointing towards? Well, just a few verses down in that Romans passage, Paul says this (Romans 8:28): "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."
When I think about the work of our lives, I read that sentence a little differently. All things work. All of creation is called to be at work, for good. We are called to work with God to usher in God’s Kingdom, to bathe the world in Christ’s love. This is perhaps the hardest work any of us will ever do, but it can be the most rewarding. Here’s what Jesus says in John 16:21: "When a woman is in labor, she has pain because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world."
May your work be fruitful. Despite the challenges, may it bring you a sense of purpose in your life. May you always remember the task to which we are called: Giving birth to joy.
(And may you take time for a well-earned sabbath this weekend.)
-- Rev. Mitch Todd
Prayer for Reflection
Dear Lord, make sure our labor gives birth to joy. Amen.
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