Once upon a time, not long after God began his acts of creation, he brought into being a man and put him in the Garden of Eden to till and care for it. The story in Genesis 2 says something about the nature of being human that requires work as an essential element of human wholeness. But more than that, it also says something about what that work is. It is a work of holy stewardship. The man was charged with taking care of God’s creation, engaging with all the plants and animals so that the acts of creation and recreation could continue.
The story in Genesis 2 features a particular person who would later be known as Adam. But preceding it in Genesis 1 is a more universal story where the whole of humanity is brought into being by God and given dominion over the rest of God’s earthly creation, not as owners but as agents created in the image of God to continue to the work of God.
The work of caring for God’s creation is a fundamental part of what it is to be human, and that includes not only the stewardship of land, water, air, plants and animals, but most important of all, the stewardship of humanity, of one another. Some theology holds that humans have fallen so far and become so depraved that they can offer no righteous work to God. I’m not so sure. Scripture frequently testifies to the work of individuals as signs of their righteousness before God. Consider for instance Abel, Noah, Lot, Job, Abraham, David (in spite of his evil deeds), and Joseph of Nazareth, to which we might add the anonymous righteous mentioned in Ezekiel, Amos, Habakuk, Matthew and Luke. None of them were perfect. Each was a sinner. They were not deemed righteous in their being, but righteousness was attributed to them for their works. What seems to tie them together is that they not only heard God’s word but became doers of it so that at least some of their deeds were considered to be moments of righteousness and pleasing in God’s sight.
If we are capable of deeds showing moments of righteousness, Jesus, in his humanity, led a life of works that was entirely righteous before God and demonstrated for us what righteous works look like. Now you might think that this preamble is headed toward an essay on what righteousness might look like in the life of an ordinary fallen 21st century human being living in North America, but what I started out to explore was something a bit different. What all of this brought to mind was how important work itself is to being a whole human being. Work is not something to be simply endured, done until retirement, or until one has accumulated enough wealth to quit. Human beings need work to be fully human in body, mind and soul. But not any work will do. The work that completes us is work that God has given us to do, work that is undertaken in companionship with God. That work, in all its combinations and permutations, is the work of caring for God’s creation, including caring for one another. It includes the work of tilling the soil through which new life and new bounty can be brought into the world. There are so many soils. There are so many ways of tilling. I wonder how we might examine how the ordinary jobs of ordinary human beings might be understood as holy work that is pleasing in God’s sight? What might that mean for our understanding of ministry and stewardship? Got any ideas about that?