Toil, hardship, distress
A Clever Verse for Context
When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the LORD, the God of our ancestors; the LORD heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil (mochthos), and our oppression. (Deuteronomy 26:6-7, Greek as from the Septuagint)
How much of the Christian life boils down to toil (mochthos)? Following Jesus can get tiring: choosing kindness over apathy, taking time to listen instead of judge, giving without demands and expectations, practicing hope when its March and you’ve just lost an hour of sleep… This life of following Jesus is not easy. More often than not it is not one big difficult task, but the countless little ones that become most burdensome. But God sees us. God counts the countless little labors that make up the Christian life: the act of kindness done in secret, the generosity practiced day by day, the tiny repentances which keep us loving and forgiving one another. God sees and makes even the most tedious of labors the holy work of the Gospel.
The Greek hero Heracles (aka Hercules) performed a series of famous “labors” (mochthos), most of which involved killing or capturing monstrous beasts. The playwright Sophocles (5th century BCE) wrote a play about the events leading to the death of Heracles, in which the hero laments that “I have tasted of countless labors (mochthos)” (see Sophocles’ Women of Trachis, line 1101).
Clever Questions for further Reflection
Can you think of a time when you had to work really, really hard?
What is something you do every day even when you don’t want to? How could that task be considered holy?
A Clever Prayer to Close
There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
2 a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
3 a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
4 a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
6 a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
7 a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
8 a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.
9 What do workers gain from their toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet[a] no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Holy One, bless our toil and our labor. May even the most tedious of tasks build up Your Kingdom. Amen