At Work

Diligent Workers Make the Best Neighbors

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As a boy, I remember hearing the heart cry of a restless generation echoing from my eldest brother’s high-powered stereo speakers. The words of pop singer Jackie DeShannon still ring with crystal clarity in my ears:

What the world needs now is love, sweet love; it’s the only thing there is just too little of.

The world still needs lots of love, but the heart cry I hear from so many today is, “What the world needs now is jobs, sweet jobs; it’s the only thing there is just too little of.”

Jobs matter because they affirm human dignity and provide the economic capacity necessary for human flourishing.

The everyday world we wake up to is an economic world. We are confronted daily with global economic realities impacting our lives in myriad, often stress-filled ways: We may lose our job to downsizing. We may face unemployment or underemployment. The latest jobs report and housing starts immediately to impact the financial markets, consumer confidence and retirement accounts. An unwelcome rush of worry ambushes us with the latest alarming headline.

How does Christian faith inform our thinking when it comes to our global economy and the economic opportunity of others? Is it possible that our lack of thoughtful engagement in the economic challenges of our world is in part the result of an impoverished understanding of Jesus’ teaching on what neighborly love entails?

Jesus taught that loving God and our neighbor is at the very heart of Christian faith. But what does loving our neighbor look like in daily life? Is it about taking soup to a sick neighbor or mowing the lawn of a neighbor who is on vacation? Of course, these tangible gestures of love are good and right, but what if Jesus had more in mind when he spoke about neighborly love? What if neighborly love speaks into the collaborative work we do every day and fuels the economic flourishing of our increasingly globally interconnected world? Could it be that Jesus was a more insightful economist than we realize?

When Jesus left his carpentry shop to become an itinerant rabbi, his preaching context was often in a marketplace surrounded by buyers and sellers. One of Jesus’ most famous stories was about an unlikely hero who had an unusually good grasp of what it means to be a good neighbor. This unlikely hero, simply described as a Samaritan, was not a religious leader, but most likely was a person engaged in first-century commerce. On a business trip, he comes upon a person who has been robbed, beaten and left for dead. Unlike two religious leaders who had walked by the victim of injustice, the Samaritan offers first aid, interrupts his business trip, pulls out his own Visa card and takes the wounded stranger to an inn to recover. What amazing generosity the Samaritan embodies.

In his story, Jesus presents a riveting contrast between the callous indifference of the religious leaders and the heartfelt compassion of a Samaritan business person. However, there is a more subtle contrast Jesus is making that we must not overlook. Embedded in Jesus’ parable is the riveting contrast between the economic injustice of the robbers wrongly taking what is not theirs and the economic goodness of the Samaritan generously giving what is rightfully his.

Have we paused to consider how the Samaritan was able to care for his neighbor in this moment of crisis? What made it possible for the Samaritan business person to help his needy neighbor get back onto his feet? Clearly, the Samaritan was motivated by heartfelt compassion, but he was able to engage in loving action because he had the economic capacity to do so. The Samaritan’s economic capacity came from diligent labor and wise financial stewardship within an economic system of adding value to others.

Jesus goes out of his way to describe the merciful compassion of the Samaritan and the economic generosity the Samaritan exhibited. If we are going to love our neighbor well, it is not enough to manage our financial resources well; we must have financial resources to manage. A philanthropic heart is not enough; the economic capacity for philanthropy matters too. Distinguished economist Thomas Sowell emphasizes the need for economic capacity in caring for our neighbors:

Ultimately, it is economic prosperity which makes possible for billions of dollars to be devoted to the less fortunate.

Jesus’ teaching on The Great Commandment reminds us that loving our neighbor in need involves both altruistic compassion and economic capacity. Neighborly love calls for truth, grace and mercy to put on economic hands and feet. The Christian faith compels us to live in such a God-honoring way that we do honest work, make an honest profit, and cultivate economic capacity so we can serve others and help meet their economic needs. Our diligent work creates economic value, and it is economic value that makes possible the economic capacity for living generously. What the world needs now is jobs, sweet jobs. Good jobs make for good neighbors.

Editor’s note: This article was first published in a special report by the Institute for Faith, Work & Economics and The Washington Times entitled, ”Faith at Work: Individual Purpose, Flourishing Communities.” Reprinted with permission.

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