The Ten Commandments are not the last word of God’s holy Law in Luther’s Small Catechism. There is another section called the Table of Duties. It is a chart or list of Bible passages that apply to the different callings that we have in society. There are passages that apply to pastors and to their hearers, to parents and to children, to government and to citizens, to widows and to youth. Tonight we consider what God’s holy Law has to say to workers and employers.
Do you have a job? Do you do any work for anyone? Does anyone do any work for you? Then, you have some guidance from holy Scripture about how the Lord would have you fulfill those vocations. His word is not entirely silent on the subject and therefore you do not get to do whatever you want to do, whether you are the boss or not. As the reading from Ephesians (6:5-9) enlightened us, there is a Master in heaven, who is master over both the workers and the employers. It is what He says that goes.
There is a great temptation for workers and employers to view each other as being on opposite sides. It almost seems natural that the one is pitted against the other in a constant struggle under which it is amazing that any work gets done. Out of fear that the workers want to get paid for nothing, the employer does not trust them. Out of fear that they are not being paid fairly, the workers do not trust the employer. There is a constant tension created by our sinful nature that spills out in very real and common ways.
In the letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul tells slaves, or workers of any kind, that they should not do their work only because they think they may be being watched. They are indeed being watched, if not by their masters, then by the Master. But that should not be their motivation in any case. The Scripture says that they should do the will of God from the heart, not because anyone is watching, but because they want to do it out of love for Him. Such is their calling as a worker. They may be employed by an earthly master, but God has divinely called them to fulfill their duty with honesty and integrity, and to the best of their ability.
St. Paul tells masters, or employers of any kind, that they should do the same. They should take on their responsibility as coming from the Lord, and fulfill it from the heart, that is, out of love. So there is no room for threatening their workers. There is room for employing compassion and mercy, knowing that the heavenly Master has love for all, employers and workers alike.
Into whichever category we may fall, worker or employer and sometimes we may be in both, our motivation is the love of God: our love for Him in response to His love for us. So our pattern is the life of love seen in our Lord Jesus Christ who, although we acknowledge Him as Lord, comes to serve us.
When He might have been in the greatest fear, knowing that the time of His suffering had come, He did not begin to throw His weight around and make demands. Rather, motivated by love for His own in the world, “He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet” (John 13:4-5). Knowing that the Father had put all authority into His hands, Jesus did not tell Judas Iscariot to start washing feet. When Peter protested, Jesus didn’t reply, “You’re right Peter, you ought to be doing this,” and hand him the towel. While the disciples argued about which of them was the greatest, the greatest One was on His knees doing the lowliest act of service.
The Master spoke one of those solemn sayings of His: “Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him” (John 13:16). The roles of worker and employer are not roles of unequal merit or worthiness, but merely roles that have different duties or responsibilities. The worker is not less valuable than the boss, although he is subject to him. The boss is not more important than the worker, although he has authority over him. And Jesus was not just teaching industrial economics. He was speaking of the oeconomia of the Kingdom of God, the functioning of God’s household, where everyone has equal worth because everyone is in Christ.
Christ washed the disciples feet and bid them to do the same for each other because He knew they were in Him. They were the ones for whom He would take the place upon the cross, bearing their sins. And they were the ones to whom He was giving His place as children of the heavenly Father. His holy body and His precious blood were their purchase price. That is what they are worth. They are precious in His sight because they are in Him.
Therefore, for them to serve one another is for them to serve Christ. The one whose feet you wash is in Christ. When you wash his feet you are serving Christ, performing an act of love and devotion for your Lord, like the woman who washed His feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair (Luke 7:38). Very few people have the assigned task of washing feet, but whatever you do you must view it as a service to your neighbour and so a service to Christ. Again, a solemn statement of Jesus debunks the thoughts of our sinful nature: “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives Me, and whoever receives Me receives the One who sent Me” (13:20). By serving in your vocation, you are serving Christ and the heavenly Father.
Jesus did not give up His role as master and take on the role of the slave. Rather, He pointed out, “you call Me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (13:14). He was still Lord and Teacher, even while washing their feet. Employers, then do not have to fear a loss of their status or calling when they serve their employees. Being served and not serving others does not make you a master or employer. Rather, there is simply a difference in responsibility and duty. The service remains. What is more, the employer is called to serve his employees. It is not the workers’ obedience that makes him master, but his love and care for them.
Our Master, Jesus, exemplifies this by serving at the table. While His disciples argue about which of them is the greatest, He is among them as one who serves (Luke 22:27). He is still among us as one who serves. As we come to His table, where He is our gracious Lord and Master, He serves us. He feeds us. He gives us His body and blood to make us completely clean of those sins whereby we transgress the vocations that He has called us to fulfill.
We don’t even want to do the duties that our callings of workers and employers have laid upon us. We find them too onerous and demanding. But Jesus willingly fulfilled His role to be our Master, and that meant that He served His heavenly Father’s will and purpose to save us from our sins. It meant that His stripping of Himself to wash the disciples’ feet was a short little prelude to Him being stripped naked to hang from the cross. And the basin of water with which He knelt before His disciples would give way to the blood and water that flowed from His pierced, dead body.
Jesus, our Master, is still serving us. He is still washing us in our Baptism and feeding us at His Supper. Risen and victorious over all, He is still among us, workers and employers of all kinds, as the one who serves.