Working in a time of pandemic

A reflection by Marcelo Figueroa on the occasion of the Labour Day

Working in a time of pandemic

Marcelo Figueroa, theologian and biblical scholar, director of the Argentinian edition of the L'Osservatore Romano, reflects on the Labour Day, in a time of COVID-19 pandemic: "On this Day for Workers, let us go to Christ and allow Him to come to us to renew our spirits, give us new strength, dry our tears, free our confinements, and caress our anguish. ".

Here follows the text:


" Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28)


The worker’s faces

One can see the signs of workers in times of pandemic in the exhausted faces of health workers who face so much death every day, in the lost gaze of those who do not know if they will return to work tomorrow, in the skinny pockets of the self-employed who have lost their source of income, in the aching chest of the domestic worker who feels dispensable, in the clenched fist of the one who continues his labor efforts locked in a room, or in the heart of the woman who, as head of the household, desires that the new day will bring hope of a minimum income.

These are not exceptions. On the contrary, the present time overwhelms third of the world’s workers. It is not only a question of strictly labor problems, but the psychological damage, which we are not yet in position to measure, that attacks the center of human life, the human being’s dignity as a worker.

On this "Labor Day", as Christians, we must be afraid to examine this situation head on. We must do so not in terms of generalizations or statistics, but with the eyes of the Master, making them incarnate, with names and a unique and precious identity.


Jesus, a fellow worker and co-worker

Jesus knew very well these labors, anxieties, looks, burdens and sleeplessness. From his own life on the outskirts of Galilee he learned as a child and later as a young man the untiring artisan work of Joseph with rustic wood, remembering the image of his hands wounded by the chisels and his arms exhausted at the end of the day. And he could surely treasure for himself the sweet and profound gaze of his mother Mary who silently contemplated this family scene while offering warm food and a warm embrace to her husband and son.

From the squares of his town, the Son of Man could surely see the images of the unemployed or those set aside who waited in anguish for the landowner to call them to work in his vineyard for a meager wage as the day progressed (Mt. 20:1-16). He was able to build his teaching from his personal knowledge of the desperation of the woman who daily counts the meager coins of her poor livelihood and one day sweeps away her poor piece with anguish at the loss of a single one (Lk. 15:8-10). In his validation of worthy sustenance as a superior good to the cold and soulless law, he deepened the profound pedagogy of the Sabbath before his disciples with their hands loaded with seeds (Lk.6,1-5).


Jesus, a health worker

From his infinite compassion and suffering all kinds of attacks, questionings and intolerances, he worked as a tireless doctor. In his role as a "health worker", he put himself at risk in both body and soul by touching diseases of the highest contagiousness (Lk 5:12-16). Like no one else, he attended the most outcast and helpless patient in the anteroom of a "hospital with hierarchies" in Solomon's portico (Jn 5:1-16). In his knowledge that behind a uniform there was always a human being who was sacrificial and worthy, he not only stopped Peter's attack, but he healed the damage caused on the very night of his arrest (Lk.22,50-51). Even in those jobs that were despised, perhaps with some reason, such as those that abused their role as tax collectors, he was able to see a disciple who needed liberation from that prison that he himself and the system had built (Mt.9,9-13).


Christ the gravedigger

In this post-Easter time, the scene where Jesus wept, cried out, closely accompanied and showed hope before the tomb of his friend Lazarus speaks to us in a different way (Jn.11,38-44). He does so for the workers in the cemeteries who today, together with some religious ministers, in solitude, helplessness and courage, in the holy fields or in improvised common graves, carry out a heart-rending task and become today the only witnesses and substitute "relatives". Before them, their families and the souls of those who have left, the image of Jesus, resurrection and life, which calls us not to fear, brings relief and also recognition to these workers who are surrounded by so much oppressive death.


Christ calls us to rest and unload our burdens on him

In front of all of them, knowing many of them, being a friend of many of them and loving each one of them, Jesus understood that he could lighten those heavy anguishes and labor tragedies. He called them, as the quoted text of the Gospel tells us, to come to Him to rest from their labors, burdens and weariness. And he did so as who had experienced those labors, but also with full knowledge of his divinity, mission and identity: "All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him" (Mt. 11:27). He proposed to them, in terms of a yoke, a new strength accompanied by Himself, and He formed in them the secret of rest, modeled after His person, His character and His heart: "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light" (Mt. 11-29-30).


Encounter with Christ in times of para-pandemic

In these times of COVID-19, in addition to physical illness, the malignant germ of trafficking, exploitation of undocumented persons, mistreatment of migrants and in many cases stigmatization and xenophobia towards certain races or nationalities has become viral. These social diseases of work are affecting millions of people around the world.

It is once again Jesus, who having suffered discrimination because of where he came (Jn 1:45-46), or his own followers because of their way of speaking (Mt 26:73),  who allows himself to be seen as a suffering servant who draws all to himself so as to help those who suffer from this kind of pandemic disease. Jesus reaches out to the marginalized, to women who suffer sexual exploitation and to the socially displaced in such a way that he eats with them and brings them with him into his kingdom of justice.

Our faith, as disciples and as a Church modeled on the Good Shepherd, impels us to engage in these social and individual pandemics, offering our physical presence and our tables and sharing the Gospel of mercy with all those brothers and sisters who are not counted in the statistics of the infected, but are counted in the casuistry of those affected.

On this Day for Workers, let us go to Christ and allow Him to come to us to renew our spirits, give us new strength, dry our tears, free our confinements, and caress our anguish. Let us go confidently to Christ, who does not delay in coming to us with his infinite patience and humble heart to give us rest.

01 May 2020