Monday, November 10, 2014

"If a man will not work, he shall not eat."

This is an adage that St. Paul quotes in 2 Thessalonians 3:10.  It is nowhere else in the Bible, so it must have been current and well known in the Mediterranean world at the time Paul wrote the letter to the Christians in Thessaloniki.  It is not a political statement addressed to a problem in the city, but a statement made to Christians about how they should treat each other.  In particular, Paul refers to a group of Christians in the church community who are "idlers" or "slackers."  (The English translation for the particular Greek word at issue depends on the version of 2 Thessalonians one consults.  But whatever version one consults, there is no mistaking the sort of behavior to which Paul refers.) 

How does this square with the admonition that we are to serve each other in the church community and those outside of it as well.  In this case, the best sort of service one can offer to the slacker or the idler is not to indulge him (or "enable" him, as the current jargon goes).  Usually it is far easier to buy someone off, - especially if one has the means - so maybe he will go away and leave us alone.   Coming to grips with destructive behavior is difficult, and being firm about the behavior opens us up to criticism that we are uncaring or unloving or "unChristian."   Not to take the buy-out gets us involved in the circumstances of the wrong-doer, because we remain called to treat with him, treat with him when we have other things we would prefer to do.  If we are honest, we really don't want that relationship after all.  Nevertheless, Jesus calls us into it.

Later in the passage, Paul writes that we are "not to regard him [the "slacker"] as an enemy, but warn him as a brother."  Frankly, I might very well prefer not to have him as a brother.  Maybe I can work it so that he will just go away.  Maybe I'll take the buy-out.

Compare Fred Grimm's excellent column yesterday in the Miami Herald to the problem of the homeless in Ft. Lauderdale.

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