Mankind was my business. ~ Jacob Marley
Day 6: Matthew 4:19
Come with me and I will teach you to catch men.
One of the first things Jesus does when he begins his ministry is to form a little community of people to accompany him on his journey through life. The first two disciples were fishermen. His words of invitation are an intriguing invitation for these fisherman to interrupt their lives; to stop fishing for food and to start “fishing for men”.
For many Americans work, home, and family are the most important things in their lives. Jesus asks Simon (Peter) and Andrew to give up all of these things and go on a spiritual adventure. A true mission from God. Jesus knows that Simon and Andrew all have a higher calling than earning a living for themselves and their families.
I am reminded of the conversation between the ghost of Jacob Marley and Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol:
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself. “Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.”Mankind was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The deals of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
I think Dickens got it right. Mankind is our business. Making a difference in other people’s lives is our business. Celebrating the goodness of life is our business. Loving one another is our business. Creating healthy communities where everyone is accepted and cared for is our business. Contrary to what many people believe, the accumulation of wealth shouldn’t be our primary objective. Greed and money weigh us down. Just ask the ghost of Marley who was encumbered by those chains and moneyboxes, forged of his own making.
I like it that Scrooge didn’t close down his business and go into ministry after he had his epiphany and transformation. Scrooge used what he already had – his successful business – to build up the Kingdom by extending love and generosity to his employee Bob Cratchit, reconciling with his nephew, and giving generously to charities. In doing so he became a walking miracle, a catcher of man and Kingdom builder right where he was. We are not supposed to go about our daily affairs being greedy and cynical like the old Scrooge. We are all called to use our gifts and abilities to make the world a better place, just like the new Scrooge.
Is it possible to reconcile work and spirituality? I definitely think it’s possible if the motivation is honorable and there is a culture of integrity. There has to be a sense of mission other than to make money. When it comes to mixing work and spirituality I don’t think anyone ever did it better than the Shakers. The way they conducted themselves was a powerful witness about their faith. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about economics of Shaker communities:
The communality of the Believers was an economic success, and their cleanliness, honesty and frugality received the highest praise. All Shaker villages ran farms, using the latest scientific methods in agriculture. They raised most of their own food, so farming, and preserving the produce required to feed them through the winter, had to be priorities. Their livestock was fat and healthy, and their barns were commended for convenience and efficiency.
When not doing farm work, Shaker brethren pursued a variety of trades and hand crafts, many documented by Isaac N. Youngs. When not doing housework, Shaker sisters did likewise, spinning, weaving, sewing, and making sale goods.
Shakers ran a variety of businesses to support their communities. Many Shaker villages had their own tanneries, sold baskets, brushes, bonnets, brooms, fancy goods, and homespun fabric that was known for high quality, but were more famous for their medicinal herbs, garden seeds, apple-sauce, and knitted garments.
The Shaker goal in their temporal labor was perfection. Ann Lee’s followers preserved her admonitions about work:
- Good spirits will not live where there is dirt.
- Do your work as though you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.
- Put your hands to work, and your heart to God.
Shaker craftsmen were known for a style of Shaker furniture that was plain in style, durable, and functional. Shaker chairs were usually mass-produced because a great number of them were needed to seat all the Shakers in a community. Because of the quality of their craftsmanship, original Shaker furniture is costly.
Shakers won respect and admiration for their productive farms and orderly communities. Their industry brought about many inventions like Babbitt metal, the rotary harrow, the circular saw, the clothespin, the Shaker peg, the flat broom, the wheel-driven washing machine, a machine for setting teeth in textile cards, a threshing machine, metal pens, a new type of fire engine, a machine for matching boards, numerous innovations in waterworks, planing machinery, a hernia truss, silk reeling machinery, small looms for weaving palm leaf, machines for processing broom corn, ball-and-socket tilters for chair legs, and a number of other useful inventions.
Shakers were the first large producers of medicinal herbs in the United States, and pioneers in the sale of seeds in paper packets. Brethren grew the crops, but sisters picked, sorted, and packaged their products for sale, so those industries were built on a foundation of women’s labor in the Shaker partnership between the sexes.
The Shakers believed in the value of hard work and kept comfortably busy. Mother Ann said, “Labor to make the way of God your own; let it be your inheritance, your treasure, your occupation, your daily calling.”
I don’t think we are all called to give up our families and friends and jobs and become traveling apostles. I think there is ample opportunity for us to do a lot of great things without leaving our homes or quitting our jobs. But in our own way we are still nevertheless invited to go on the same kind of spiritual journey as the disciples – dedicating ourselves to God and inviting others to do likewise, demonstrating love and kindness to all, and using the gifts that we have been given to make a difference in people’s lives. Like it says in Colossians 3:23: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as though you were working for the Lord and not for people.” When we do all that we do for the love of humanity instead of the love of money, we have the potential to shake things up and make the world take notice. We have the ability to make people step back and think about the meaning of life, and the purpose of work. Just like the Shakers.
What does this scripture say to you?