16th Sunday Ordinary Time: Working for the Lord and Doing the Lord’s work

There’s a difference between working for the Lord and doing the Lord’s work.  Recently, when I was visiting a good friend of mine, she shared with me this point we might ponder, a point that was shared with her at one time.  It’s an apt point for reflection especially today in light of the Gospel.  What’s the difference?  For each of us, it will be our life’s opus to figure it out – and live it out!  There are some things we can look for though and we give thanks to Sts. Martha and Mary for their help in us doing that.  I share with you from my own reflection today.

When we work for the Lord, we can easily be distracted by many things that we believe are relevant until it becomes apparent to us that they’re not.  As a priest, I have been tempted to value a day on the amount of work I’ve got done or the number of tasks I’ve completed.  What I’m doing is priestly work in service of God and in service of the People of God.  This is work for the Lord.  Even as Vocation Director, there can be a temptation to think that if I’ve given out many seminary applications, met many men on a given day “doing vocation work” or given many vocation talks that this has been a good day for the Lord.  Again, this is working for the Lord.  Of course, in my own vocation there are many other possible scenarios.  Surely mothers and fathers can relate to “getting things done” and there is a need and necessary time for that.  But this is where the difference lies.

There are many days that I am completing tasks and checking another item off my list that people can sense I am task-oriented and not fully engaged, my mind on the next thing I need to get done.  For a man who struggles from time to time with patience, often task-orientation brings out a lack of patience in me.  I’m getting the job done, but my care and concern for people is far less important to me than the task at hand.  We can see in her fretting and annoyance with Mary that Martha’s less concerned with Jesus being with them, more concerned with what Mary isn’t doing and the tasks she needs to get done for the occasion of our Lord being there – He is already there and she’s missing that!

In my vocation work, I remind myself of the difference between working for the Lord and doing the Lord’s work all the time.  I can meet with 6 or 7 discernment candidates a day and move from meeting to meeting, but I must ask myself – have I truly listened?  Have I seen the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of this person?  Do I have what I need to bring to deeper prayer for this candidate?  Have I truly been the Lord’s instrument in this meeting of ours?

Doing the Lord’s work means being Jesus to the people we encounter every day.  Working for the Lord doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing.  In order to understand the difference, we need to really know and have embraced the One whose work we are doing.  This we gain through prayer, through seeking day by day to be like Him, not presuming things about Him but also being open and accepting that we get it wrong sometimes and having a sincere desire to get it right.  Knowing the difference and changing also requires a great deal of insight about ourselves.  My friends, today I pray that we all learn (like Martha did) to know the difference and I pray that we don’t miss the occasions to do the Lord’s work because we’re working for the Lord.  May God bless you.

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