I find it intriguing that the lectionary texts this year all seem to elcit the responses from my study group of: "Oh no not that one!" or "That text is so misused." What is it about this particular set of scripture that is tempting to 'misuse'? Today's text is a letter to the Thessalonians about the community and imitating the example of the disciples who started the church. It exhorts us to be willing to work for it has been heard that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies. Those who are not willing to work it continues, should not eat.
In the current era in America, this is used to belitle plans such as Obamacare, assistance such as food stamps and an array of other services. Others are quick to rationalize or latch on to the term 'willing'. They may be willing but unable at this time to do work or to find work. However, in doing this, we miss the point. The misuse is applying scripture to judge everyone but ourselves. The point is not to focus on 'they' but on me. This letter is to each one of us. We jump quickly to placing ourselves in a position of the person doing the right and refusing to feed the 'other'.
That is not what Jesus was about. Jesus was all about helping the poor and fighting for justice for those who were unable to help themselves. This scripture is all about community. How do we relate and interact with one another. Rather than being quick to judge, look at the work that we are doing ourselves not focusing in on the lack of another part of the group to 'pull their weight'. We define ourselves in this modern world so much by our jobs, that introductions usually entail a job title or job description even if we are in a completely social setting. That skirts awfully close to pride of position.
And, that is exactly what this passage is warning against. The writer of this letter is warning against such a feeling of entitlement that we rest on our laurels. This does not mean that if I run around and look really busy that I am doing the right thing and can point the finger at those unwilling who I can shun. What exactly is a busybody? What is work?
Our work changes at different ages and our willingness to perform our role in our Christian community may look very different from how our society defines willingness to 'work'. Sometimes indeed it is harder to receive than to give, but that is what we are called to in that time and place. Our pride often stands in the way of doing that gracefully.
Rather than jumping up and down and refusing to support systems that provide for those less fortunate, this text should be taken personally in its first portion more heavily than in the second. We should examine the work we do. Am I flitting from job to job rather than working for the good of the whole? Am I working for work's sake or doing something that enables my passion to ignite love and caring in the world? Am I willing to get my hands dirty to further the Kingdom of God?
When it comes to warning, we should warn our brothers and sisters who stand in the way of the work of the Kingdom. However, nothing here says to force others to do the right work or to deny them food or care. We are the ones being warned, look to ourselves and how we are furthering the relationship of the whole. Do what brings value to you and to the whole body. For relationship is what it is all about and how we work for the whole rather than against each having their place. Remember - the greatest command is Love - Love you neighbor as yourself.