“to talk of many things… of cabbages and kings”
We read in Luke 10, of the master instructing his inner circle, his staff, as it were, in how they should go about to teach-- and to heal. He insists that they ought not to go about ,from pillar to post, like mendicants, begging support for what they do, but attach themselves to a community, even to a household, and stay there, content with what they may receive. Then can they teach. “…for the labourer is worthy of his hire.”
There it is, verse 7, the center of the argument: that the workman is worthy, worthy in his employment. I think it works on three levels of meaning. The ambiguity is profound. First, I take it that the worker is worthy to be paid his bill for his work, of what he charges for his labor.
The second sense, I believe, is a challenge to the worker to do work that is worthy in quality.
And third, that the laborer must we worthy, as a person, to those who hire him.
I believe these three meanings are lodged in those eight words, with emphasis on the first of them, the “for” meaning “because”. Because this work, this labor, is done in the world, the real world, where work is of enduring consequence.
I am happily repairing from surgery of enduring consequence.
I was, as the British say, considering the anatomy of such invasions, “interfered” with. But I have chosen to forgive my surgeon for his rooting around inside me, recognizing that he was and will remain a worker in the vineyard of many more patients’ health. He daily takes his chances with them.
But is he “worthy” in that Biblical formula? Let me begin my text with the third sense of worthiness, asking is he worthy of my having hired him to work on me? The answer is a simple and unqualified Yes. I think he must be as good as they come. His qualifications are impeccable. I hired him and I’m glad.
I believe he is equally worthy in the second and related sense, that his workmanship is worthy, in my case, equal to that of the best. The way I feel today as I write this is indicative of that.
But it’s that first sense that’s the trouble-maker. I have had reports on paper of what he charged me for his work. It is well beyond my ability to pay. And so, there has stepped in an authority to tell him that he cannot expect to be paid what he has charged. That agency of government has agreed to pay him only a part of his fee. And he, my surgeon, must be content.
And as it turns out, by virtue of his character and his values, alluded to in the third sense of what it is to be worthy, he will do his work for less than what he and his profession deem right and fair.
He will be content-- and without bitterness or any slight to me.
Think of that: He may be, in every way, worthy of his hire, but he will not get what he charges for it.
And yet, he will root around, interfere with, another patient tomorrow, always doing his level best.
Come to think of it, I spent a lifetime interfering in the lives of children helping them find ways to grow and love their lives.
I think I satisfied meaning no.3. I was worthy of being hired by that Wyoming community. I was qualified. And I think, for no.2, that community felt that my labor on behalf of its children was of good value.
But here we go again, that no.1? Was I paid what I charged for my labor? I charged them my livelihood. Yet who can say what a livelihood should be? Who can know what a teacher’s teaching is worth. (or a surgeon’s cutting, for that matter) How much is he to be paid? I used to argue in every forum that as no one can determine what teaching is worth, but that it has to be done, and that it is important-- that the authorities holding the purse were obligated to pay us teachers as much as they possibly could, and that then we teachers, like my surgeon, would simply have to take it or leave it. Content.
Content! Here I am, discovering how much I am in the same predicament as my surgeon. We are not paid what we might think to charge for our labor; though we are worthy of it. Fair?
Fair or not, my surgeon and I must take comfort in the knowledge that It has been given us to labor in the vineyards of health and education. That has been our privilege. In this labor we have staked our claim to be worthy. Perhaps, the doing it is, after all, what we charge for our labor.