Why “Labor” Day?

I’m sitting here this morning trying to figure out why we call today “Labor” Day. A quick glance through Wikipedia’s entries on “Labour Day“, reveals that Labor Day is connected to the celebration of the contribution of workers to our world. But, I’m trying to figure out what in my life is so “laborious.”
There is only one thing about my “labor” that I would call “laborious” and I’ll get to that in a moment, but first this: I don’t consider what I do to be “labor” or “work.” I consider it a vocation — something planted in me by God and designed by God to contribute to the Kingdom of God somehow and someway. Calling what I do, or what anyone does, “labor” turns it exclusively into a capitalist adventure designed to make money. And it turns it into a “labor force” vs. a “leader force.” That, also, gives me some problems. I would hope we could work together. (Sure, I’m aware of deep divisions, and I’ll avoid that.)
Here’s what I do: I teach. Which means I have students under my care that I try to lead into more knowledge about the Bible and theology, into better modes of thinking, and into being more responsible in letting their knowledge and faith shape their behavior. I don’t see this as laborious or even work. In fact, I love it so much that on Labor Day I miss that we don’t have classes (though I don’t teach on Mondays anyway).
I also read and write: which is what I do when I’m not teaching, though about everything I read and write shows up in my classes and gets filtered into one of those three rubrics of knowledge, critical thinking, and responsibility. And I love to read and write. I don’t get up in the morning dreading what I’m called to do (the impact of seeing what I do as a vocation and not labor or work), but I go to bed looking forward what I am privileged to do the next day.
There is, however, one thing about my vocation that I dread: committee meetings. I can’t think of anything good that comes of committee meetings. First, it takes a committee ten times as long to do something as a couple of people could do in discussion; and second, we have meetings because it is time to meet and often not because we really do have something that all of us need to chat about. And, third, and here I meddle: too often committee meetings are opportunities for some sorts to vent their anger about the labor setting of what they do, and I really don’t have the patience to hear them out or want to hear their whining.
Maybe, in fact, that is the point: when we see what we do as “labor” we fail to see that it is a vocation from God. As Mr. Rogers would put it: “just for you.” When we grind our vocations down into labor, we perhaps destroy the subtle balance there is between responsibility to others and God and our freedom, and it leads us to a rabid desire for the latter as we retreat from the former.
Well, have a good Labor Day, even if with me you see it as Vocation Day. A day to thank God for what God has called us to do and be in God’s Kingdom.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.jesustheradicalpastor.com John Frye


  • http://www.GetGraced.com Kerry Doyal

    You sked: But, I’m trying to figure out what in my life is so “laborious.”
    Alls I can say is – you never had you for a prof… just kidding. What a joy to serve Him – no matter what we do, but especially in certain roles. Oh to have such a neat bias for our calling (sucha a great term).

  • http://jinnychieu.blogspot.com Jinny

    LOL ^_^ True that, Pastor Frye!