The World of Work
When Jesus asserted that we cannot serve God and money (Luke 16), he was advancing an argument against the world of commerce. His ideas were centred around the early forms of capitalism.
By way of context, with centralised governments the burden of taxation had increased significantly. For instance, colonial masters charged their subjects for central and local administration, and a percentage of this revenue is returned to the State’s treasury. The impact of this policy is a massive economic gulf between the rich and poor. Most of the elites will offer their services to their colonial masters in one capacity or another. They serve as tax collectors, magistrates, administrators etc. The funds they made might be used to acquire lands, which the poor cultivated.
There was always competition among these poor farmers as a result of pressure from landowners for yield, thereby creating a toxic environment within their social class. Community spirit is broken, cooperation eroded, and social capital diminishes. People are left behind. The sick, disabled, and vulnerable ones are seen as liabilities.
We fast forward to the 21st century, and Jesus’ indictment still holds. We have a broken system. The world of work is competitive, aggressive, selfish and very tribal. Marx argues that the reason we are largely unhappy with work is because we no longer do what we enjoy, but rather, we are producing things which gives us little or no benefit directly. As such work becomes a burden.
So, many argue that our world of work is responsible for much of our social ills today. Workers are stressed, people are fearful about going to work, people are living on pain killers and stimulants. Relationships suffer and our communities collapse. Even worse, as we are slowly loosing what is left of work to machines, the rate of suicide is rising fast.
Added to this is the fact that without being involved in these dehumanising activities one can hardly survive in this world. Our basic needs like food, shelter, clothing; depends on this system. But in every sector: government, charities (sadly even churches), social enterprise, private; the world of work offers little or no value to our general well being. It is either heavily bureaucratic, dangerous, or serving the interest of a few.
Therefore, it is not the configuration, but the overarching idea. What Marx calls the Superstructure. This system enslaves humanity, and it stops us from harnessing our true potentials. Jesus saw it, hence he called for reordering. In similar vein David Platt argues:
“A materialistic world will not be won to Christ by a materialistic church.”
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