Like the fisherman, own your work

By Vinal Van Benthem | For The Compass | March 3, 2021

During this pandemic many small restaurants that once depended on indoor dining have had to close. But every so often we hear about a restaurant owner who remains open, often taking the money out of their own pocket to prepare dinners for health care workers or for the families of kids who are missing meals because the schools are closed. The work that once owned them has become a gift that they are able to share with those who have no work.

“You shall not have other gods besides me.” The story is told of a wealthy tourist who came upon a fisherman sitting in the sun, leaning lazily on his boat. “Why don’t you go out and fish?” the tourist inquired. “I have all the fish I need,” responded the fisherman. “But if you catch more fish you can make more money.” “Why would I do that?” the fisherman asked. “So that you can buy more boats and hire men to work for you.” “Why?” “So that you can make more money and buy more boats and hire more workers.” “Why?” “So that you can take it easy and do whatever you want?” “But I am doing that now,” the fisherman replied, wondering how the tourist could possibly be so stupid.

The fisherman’s boat did not own him. The fisherman owned the boat, not the other way around, and used it to meet his needs. The tourist, on the other hand, was obsessed with the idea of making money. Money and whatever it took to make more of it, owned him.

It’s easy to forget why we do the work that we do. It’s easy to lose our perspective when we allow our work to become our god. In John’s Gospel we are given a rare glimpse of Jesus’ anger. The money changers were supposed to be assisting the people. Instead, they were using the people to make a profit. Money had become their god.

“You shall not have other gods besides me.” Why do I do the work that I do? Do I own my job, or does my job own me?

Van Benthem is a longtime pastoral minister in the Diocese of Green Bay.

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