CFC Lecture

Peter Leithart: “The Goal of Human Labor Is Shared Festivity”

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What can the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, teach us about work? Peter Leithart posed this question in his lecture “Eucharist Between Creation and Eschaton” at a PhD Colloquia at Southeastern Seminary.

Leithart is an author, minister, theologian and president of Theopolis Institute for Biblical, Liturgical & Cultural Studies in Birmingham, Alabama.

Watch the video above, or read key excerpts below (edited for clarity):

Human beings participate in God’s creative glorification of his already glorious world.

Work as a good thing.

“Work is not part of the curse. Labor is part of the original commission of Adam. Before he falls, he’s told that he’s supposed to subdue the earth, to fill it, to rule it. He’s supposed to work in the earth in order to glorify and to change it. That’s not something that comes with the curse. It’s not something that’s a demeaning activity for Adam. In fact, to work is to express and work out the image of God.

“The first vision we have of God in the Bible is as a speaker, as someone who does things, but also as someone who makes things. He makes things by speaking, but he also makes things (particularly, he makes Adam) by being something like a potter. The verb that’s used in Genesis to describe what the Lord does with the ground — to form the adamah into the adam — what he does with the ground is the same verb you would use to describe what a potter does.

“Our God is not like the gods of the ancient Greeks, who are gods of leisure, gods who sit in bliss enjoying ambrosia and whatever else might be available in the Olympic cafeteria. Rather, our God is from the beginning of the Bible a worker. So when we work, we’re imaging God when we engage in labor — we’re doing what God does.

“Throughout the Bible, God is described as carrying out the various activities that are common vocations of human beings in the biblical world. He’s a potter. He’s an architect (Proverbs 8)…. He’s a good shepherd. He’s a husband of animals….

“So being a worker is not part of the fall. It’s not part of some decline from an original life of leisure and contemplation. It’s what we’re called to do and to be.”

Work glorifies God.

“Humans are charged to work in the world in order to change it and in order to glorify it. The world was made with glory. The world as made already manifests the glory of God and speaks of God’s glory. But then God places human beings in the world to change things, and to turn a glorious world into a world that’s more glorious.

“This is the story of human history. God makes a glorious world. He places Adam in the garden. And he expects Adam to exploit it (not in an oppressive or dominating sense, but to bring out the potentialities of the creation), in order to turn the original raw materials of the world into a glorious city. At the end of the Bible, we don’t have a garden, a return to the beginning. We instead have a glorified garden, a garden city, the New Jerusalem.

“Human beings exist in the world in order to participate in God’s creative glorification of his already glorious world.”

We don’t just work for utilitarian purposes.

What the Eucharist teaches us about work.

“We bring cultural products and we consume cultural products in the Lord’s Supper. So at the very least, we can say that the Eucharist is a resounding liturgical endorsement of the kinds of changes and transformations human beings effect in the world.

“The Eucharist shows us that the Bible doesn’t endorse undeveloped nature as the ideal. It endorses and affirms the good of the transformation and changes that humans effect on the world. Untarnished nature is not our standard. The Eucharist is at least a sign that we can come into the Lord’s presence and we can enjoy a meal in his presence with things that have been transformed by human labor, not just things that are directly from his hands. ”

What the Eucharist teaches us about the goal of work.

“The Eucharist also gives us an indication of the goal or end of human labor. And I want to sum this up by saying that the goal or end of human labor (at least at a first) is shared festivity. We work in the world in order to profit from it, to gain some personal profit…. [But] very few people actually operate on a pure profit motive. That’s almost inconceivable — that someone would operate in the world on a pure profit motive, that the only goal of my work is that I benefit from it. People are very greedy, but very few people actually do that.

“What people mostly do is to work for the sake of their own profit, but at least to share it with their close family and friends. It’s a shared festivity. We don’t just work for utilitarian purposes; that’s what the eucharist is showing us.”

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