Don’t give up the day job!
Thirty-First Sunday of the Year. Fr Gordian Marshall preaches on Paul the preacher and tent maker.
Great preacher though he was, St Paul did not give up his day job — at least that is his claim. And it is a claim he is proud of:
You remember how hard we worked, brothers and sisters; we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you while we proclaimed to you the gospel of God.
Paul goes on to boast how his conduct was always in keeping with the message he preached. That was his way. He would never have been content to say one thing and do another. His life was a sermon just as much as his words.
In fact he even went so far as to say:
I urge you to imitate me (1 Cor. 4:16),
if you want to understand how to respond to the good news. His message was not ‘watch my lips’ but ‘watch my life’.
That takes a lot of confidence, but confidence was not something that Paul lacked in his early days. As he grew older he became more conscious of his own failings and perhaps also more patient with the failings of others. But he never lost the confidence that his life as well as his preaching was presenting the Christ who was living in him.
It would be easy to draw parallels from this for Christian life today, but it is probably more appropriate for individuals to draw their own parallels about how their lives can show others what they hold as important.
A more subtle task would be to build for everyone something of that immense confidence that Paul seemed to possess. Some of it, I think, came from Paul’s own personality — some people just seem to be more buoyant than others. But most of it seems to have grown out of his love for what he was doing.
He loved the Jesus who had disrupted his life of the road to Damascus. He loved the people among whom he lived and to whom he preached.
So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves.
Love was his driving force. History is full of examples of people who have done for others they loved things they would never have believed themselves capable of.
But what of Paul’s determination to earn his own keep? The book of the Acts of the Apostles suggests that he was a tent-maker by trade (Acts 18:3) — not a nine to five job, but he would still have had to work hard to make a living.
So, why did he think it was important, part of his expression of love, to carry on? Here are just two of the many points that could be made.
Paul’s determination to keep working seems to suggest that he did not believe that working was taking him away from his preaching. Preaching is not something different from living. Everything about life contributes to it. Doing his work well and earning his keep were just as much part of preaching as talking to large crowds in the synagogues or market places.
In Paul’s terms, no one should think they cannot preach, either because they are not good at talking or because they do not have the time after their work. For him the work itself was a sermon, one not beyond the capacity of anyone.
The second point is more of a question. Paul did not expect that his preaching in the more formal sense would take up all his time. He could still carry on his trade. And yet we now expect those who preach and minister to the gospel to be available twenty-four hours a day.
I do not suggest that the heroism of many of those who do so is in any way in vain. But in the light of the shortage of volunteers for this total apostolate, it may be worth considering an apostolate which, like St Paul’s, recognises the workplace as a place of preaching which can be integrated with the more formal or liturgical proclamation of the gospel message.