instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

If anyone is unwilling to work, skip this post

Let me pull some stuff on 2 Thessalonians 3:10 up from the comments.

In one comment thread, I'd written, "Satisfaction of the physical needs of the body is due to everyone," to which Mary replied, "This of course contradicts scripture, which lays down in black and white what those who don't work should also not do."

This led to my post on the verse in question, which Mary did not find very convincing.

In a comment in the original thread, she wrote:
There are people, Paul writes, who are not entitled to food. Therefore, food, the most basic physical need, is not due to everyone. One person would suffice to demonstrate that.
Just as a reminder, what St. Paul wrote can be translated as:
In fact, when we were with you, we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.
I've already argued that this is not a general economic principle. It is rather a rule imposed by St. Paul on the Christians of Thessalonica, that they might understand the dogma of Christ's Second Coming was no excuse for them to quit working and become idle. He reminds the Thessalonians of this rule in his letter because some had fallen into false belief about how soon they might expect the Parousia. I suspect the rule as originally given also served to keep the Christians from falling into the various vices and disorders of the idle. The preaching of the Gospel would have been ill-served if the Christians had given scandal to the pagans.

So, does this rule imply, as Mary says, that satisfaction of the physical needs of the body is not due to everyone?

I don't think it follows, at least not in the way I think Mary intends.

First, notice that v. 10 is really directed at the ones unwilling to work. St. Paul is telling them, "There is nothing in the Gospel that says you should be eating if you aren't working." He is not, I'd say, telling those who do work to prevent the non-workers from eating, nor is he laying down a moral principle that it is immoral for a non-worker to eat.

He does instruct the Thessalonians "to shun any brother who conducts himself in a disorderly way" (v. 6). In conjunction with v. 10, he is requiring a very specific act. It is not the refusal of food to someone who will die if he is not fed. It is the refusal of food to someone who is presuming upon the hospitality of another due to a false or imperfect understanding of the Gospel.

This refusal of hospitality does not imply that the physical needs of the one refused is not due him at all. It does imply that a meal is not due him from another Christian, but that is a relatively mild implication compared to the one Mary proposes. It is downright insipid compared to the further implication I can't help but think she wants to draw from this half a verse, that if an able-bodied person won't work, the state should let him starve to death.

In my post, I wrote:
That doesn't mean it's not true that whoever will not work should not eat, but it can't be proven from this verse.

And if you do want to prove it from Scripture, you need to deal with such verses as, "Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow."
Mary commented on this:
How does your exegesis on Thessalonians manage to evade this? Your analysis is that it is "deny food to heretics" not "deny food to sluggards." But since "heretics" is not a null set, there is no logic difference between it and "sluggards" when considering "He who does not work shall not eat" and this verse.
I take commandments like "Give to the one who asks of you" to be based on the second great commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, giving to the one who asks of you is a matter of charity.

It may so happen, however, that not giving to a particular one who asks a particular thing of you would be more charitable than giving one it. Shunning the disorderly can be a way of instructing the ignorant; you do a person no favors by feeding him if that act confirms him in his error. It may also so happen that there are two competing and irreconcilable claims on your charity -- the non-worker seeking a meal and the local church seeking peace and order -- in which case you act on behalf of the stronger claim.

These things that "may so happen" depend on the circumstances. Among the circumstances of one who will not work asking me for a meal is the reason the one who will not work won't work. If two non-workers have different reasons for not working, I might wind up feeding one but not the other, yet still acting with as much charity as the circumstances allow toward each.

As I wrote, though, this is a matter of charity. It becomes a matter of justice when the person will not survive without my assistance. Then my surplus becomes his property by right, or so the Church teaches.