Thursday, February 24, 2011

Working Hard

Thursday, February 24, 2011 -- Week of 7 Epiphany, Year One
Saint Matthias the Apostle
To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer)

the readings for Thursday or 7 Epiphany, p. 948
Psalms 131, 132, [133] (morning)       134, 135 (evening)
Ruth 2:14-23
2 Corinthians 3:1-18
Matthew 5:27-37

the readings for St. Matthias, p. 997
Morning:  Psalm 80; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; 1 John 2:18-25
Evening:  Psalm 33; 1 Samuel 12:1-5; Acts 20:17-35

I chose the readings for Thursday of 7 Epiphany

The tentative circumstances of the immigrants Ruth and Naomi seem so poignant in today's reading.  They are two women without the protection of a male provider in a patriarchal world.  They have no land and few possessions.  During the harvest, the younger, Ruth, goes to the fields to glean with the other women peasants.  Gleaning was the Biblical right of the poor to pick up the scraps that fall to the ground during the harvest.  It is bent-over toil, sweeping the small, individual sticks or buds of grain left behind by those whom the landowner has hired to gather.  It is not in the interest of a landowner to leave much behind or to reap inefficiently.  The gleanings will be slim.  But they will be something.  The right of gleaning is a protection for the poor and an acknowledgment of our responsibility toward the poor. 

The story is set during the important seasons of the barley and wheat harvests, April and May.  These were the most important of the spring crops.  The landowner Boaz instructs the harvesters to allow Ruth to glean among the standing sheaves, a placement otherwise prohibited to gleaners.  He also tells them to "pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean."  As a result, Ruth collects an extravagant bonanza.  Her mother-in-law Naomi is amazed when Ruth brings her bundle.  It was about and ephah of barley.

How much is an ephah?  It is variously calculated at 29-50 pounds.  Such a weight of grain collected by gleaning would be extraordinary beyond imagination.

Wheat and barley grains were the primary food staple for people of ancient Israel, accounting for more than half of their caloric intake.  When the spring harvests are over, the people would have to live on whatever they had harvested. 

I think of a cereal box of something like Granola.  A pound box is pretty small.  How long might forty boxes of Granola last as the main source of food for two adult women?  If an ephah of grain is an amazing return for a gleaner, how much would someone normally bring home?  How could a peasant family collect, store and ration the spring grain collected from gleaning and avoid famine?  I wonder.

My mind shifts to the words of Jesus at the close of today's reading from Matthew.  "Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you."  He may have had in mind the tenuous circumstances of unlanded peasants. 

I'm also reminded of the compelling book "Nickel and Dimed" written by Barbara Ehrenreich.  She is a successful author, Ph.D., and journalist who was given an assignment by her editor at Harpers.  She was to take $1000 up front and her car, go to towns, apply for hourly-wage jobs, take the best-paying job offered, and live on her earnings.  She had some advantages over many hourly workers.  She was healthy, white, spoke English, had no children to support, and a paid-for car.  (She also had a credit card or ATM to fall back on in case things got too tough.)  She worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk.  She learned that no job is truly "unskilled."  Even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort.  She also learned she couldn't make it on one job.  You need at least two jobs if you want to live indoors.  And two jobs is mentally, physically, and spiritually exhausting.  Barbara Ehrenreich returned from her sojourn into the world of hourly wage earners with a new respect and empathy for those who may appear almost invisible to us. 

The story of Ruth is a story of an immigrant peasant woman who might otherwise be invisible in her world.  But among the poor are people of remarkable character and virtue.  Ruth is rewarded in the style of an Horatio Alger novel.  May God bless those millions of hard working virtuous poor who are not so rewarded.  May we also advocate and strive to create a more humane and compassionate society where anyone who is works virtuously at a full-time job can live modestly and securely and can raise a family.  Not every good person marries Boaz. 

Today I have much to be thankful for in my own work.  Thirty years ago today, on St. Matthias Day, I was ordained a priest.

Suzanne preached recently on a portion of today's gospel text:



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:11 AM, Anonymous Nancy H said...

Happy anniversary. And thank you for your daily meditations. I look forward to them every morning.

At 8:15 AM, Anonymous janet l graige said...

Hi Lowell,

I've read Nickel and Dimed, and in some sense have lived it also. I have a hundred stories of working the low end jobs (several at a time) such as the Certified Nursing Assistant duties, immense responsibilities, difficult hours, trying physical and emotional work, and in turn low pay and extremely low status, especially from the professionals in the medical field. And now working with those who have intellectual disabilities who are able to survive because they qualify for a small amount of food stamps (it is not enough) and some community supports.

The book detailed a lived experience and gives some great insights. It does not begin to compare to the lives lived with dignity of the working poor.


At 8:37 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks Nancy H.

You are so right, Janet, that what Barbara Ehrenreich writes about doesn't approach the reality. She freely admits that in her opening. In some way, she was only play-acting. She always knew she could escape. But she sheds a light on a part of our world that we tend not to see or acknowledge.


At 11:39 AM, Blogger Bill Fulton said...

Congratulations on thirty years of ordained ministry, Lowell. I always benefit from your insights.
Bill Fulton
Silverdale, Washington

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the kind anniversary note. I'm a lucky guy. (I'm also now vested with the Church Pension Fund.) :>)


Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home