I can’t find it online, but I remember seeing a Dennis the Menace comic strip in which Dennis asks the preacher on the way out of church, “What do you on all the other days besides Sunday?” I’ve actually been asked that question several times—most often by curious children who are surprised to see me somewhere in town besides the church. Although there are plenty of preachers out there who don’t work as hard as they should, most of us keep pretty busy. But busy doing what?
Today’s lesson from Sirach might have been intended as a word of encouragement for religious occupations, but it makes me nervous:
All these [manual laborers] rely on their hands, and all are skillful in their own work. Without them no city can be inhabited, and wherever they live, they will not go hungry. Yet they are not sought out for the council of the people, nor do they attain eminence in the public assembly. (38:31-33a)
It gets worse. Read the whole lesson and you realize that, although grateful for the work of artisans and craftsmen, the author pretty much calls them stupid, thus concluding, “How different the one who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High!” Even if I pretend it’s true when no one is looking, I don’t like that label.
I must say, however, that I love my job—just about every aspect of it. I remember hearing my old boss say to a parishioner, “Being a priest is a great job—maybe the best job in the world—but only if it’s the right job for you. If you’re not suited for it, you’ll hate it.” That sounds about right. So little of my job is what people see on Sunday mornings. Although a good bit goes it to getting ready for a Sunday (study, writing, desktop publishing, moving tables and chairs, recruiting volunteers, changing HVAC settings, coordination, etc.), so much more happens during the rest of the week (late-night phone calls, meetings, hospital and home visits, crisis counseling, budgets, staff relationships, marketing, etc.). Like plenty of other occupations, it’s the kind of job that involves multiple skillsets, which keeps me both busy and interested.
Unlike most other jobs, however, being a clergyperson does mean that I get paid to read the bible and study God’s word. It’s my job is to pray. All those things that Jesus tells us to do—go out and make disciples of all nations, etc.—only a few of us can make a living doing that. The rest of you have to volunteer. So yes, it’s a great job. I love it. But what does that mean for everyone else?
I think the author of Sirach makes a more subtle point than “workers are dumb; rabbis are smart.” He writes, “How can one become wise who handles the plow, and who glories in the shaft of a goad, who drives oxen and is occupied with their work, and whose talk is about bulls?” And actually that’s a good question for us to remember—both priest and laity. When we are consumed with our labors, we can’t become wise. For a clergyperson, that means I can’t let the budgets and schedules take away from my time studying God’s word. And the same is true for people who don’t make a living in ministry. We can’t let the stresses, details, or minutia of work spill over into our relationship with God. All of us—plowman, potter, and priest—should be students of the bible. Every morning should begin with quiet, reading, and prayer. If we aren’t giving that time to God, how could any of us expect a relationship with him?