A reflection by Dr. Joerg Rieger, Professor of Systematic Theology, Perkins School of Theology
When asked about the most important commandment, Jesus replied: “You shall love the lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength” … and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (The Gospel of Mark 12:30-31).
September 4 is Labor Day in the United States. Labor day reminds us of the love for our neighbors. God does not merely call us to love ourselves and our immediate families and friends. God calls us to love all of our neighbors. This love for neighbors includes the love for the millions of workers in our own country and in the world.
We owe much to the workers in the global economy. Without the labor of these workers our lives would be very different. Our clothes would be homemade, the food on our tables would be monotonous and scarce, we would not be driving in cars, and our houses would be much smaller. Workers improve the lives of us all.
As people of faith, we understand that our love for our neighbors is somehow related to our love for God. Jesus mentions the love of God and the love of neighbor in the same breath. The two cannot be separated.
The first letter of John reminds us of this connection: “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20). Labor Day helps us to give an account: how have we demonstrated our love for the workers in our global economy? How can we do a better job demonstrating our love for workers?
There is a big task ahead of us: While workers contribute to making all of our lives better, we have not always contributed to making their lives better. The minimum wage has not been raised in a number of years; it has not even been adjusted for the normal rate of inflation. In fact, the salaries of most workers today are under constant pressure. Benefits are frozen or even slashed. Common economic principles state that the interests of the workers are less important than the interests of the stockholders. How are we showing our love for our brothers and sisters? What does this say about our love for God?
The good news is still that love of God and love of neighbor are related. By showing greater love for our neighbors, we might learn to show greater love for God as well. This Labor Day, as we renew our love for the workers of the global economy, we know that we are renewing our love for God, too.