Making All Others' Work Possible

By Mihee Kim-Kort 1-09-2017

“Domestic work is the work that makes all other work possible.”

These are the words are found on the front page of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), the "nation’s leading voice for dignity and fairness for the millions of domestic workers in the United States, most of whom are women.”

Founded in 2007 by activist and MacArthur "genius grant" recipient Ai-Jen Poo, NDWA works for the respect, recognition, and inclusion in labor protections for domestic workers.

“Domestic workers care for the things we value the most: our families and our homes," the organization states on its website.

"They care for our children, provide essential support for seniors and people with disabilities to live with dignity at home, and perform the home care work that makes all other work possible. ...These workers deserve respect, dignity and basic labor protections.” 

Many workers who provide a myriad of services on a daily basis face huge disadvantages, and are simply overlooked. In the wider population, they are some of the most marginalized among us. Jane M. Saks, the curator of Work in America, asks: “When did we stop valuing the worker? When did we stop valuing the person who does the job?”

We have lost touch with the deep significance of work by separating the dignity, creativity, and livelihood of work from the individual person. In today’s emphasis on consumer capitalism — results and products — we have forgotten the interconnectedness of all our work, and the way we are baptized into the human community and live out that baptism through participating in purposeful work with our hands and feet.

For many Christians, baptism signals a new beginning and a clean slate for life. It is also an entrance into the Christian faith, and participation in the work of the community.

Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan marked not only the beginning of Jesus’ ministry but his identity as God’s son. In the Synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the writers record Jesus coming to John the Baptist, a dove descending, and a voice from heaven proclaiming Jesus’ belovedness.

The versions in Matthew, Mark, and Luke give us a dramatic glimpse of the inauguration of this new kingdom that Jesus will work to reveal, through his teachings and miracles. Jesus began his ministry there by “crossing the Jordan,” as a new Joshua who would begin his prophetic ministry to Israel and to the world leading them to the new Promised Land. 

It is no coincidence that the baptism takes place at the River Jordan, a sacred geographical marker full of rich motifs. This is the same place, not far from Jericho, where the Israelites crossed when they entered the land of Canaan and experienced God’s presence. As the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into the river, the waters of the Jordan were cut off and the Israelites could cross it on dry ground. Later, the prophet Elijah crossed the Jordan on dry ground with Elisha just before he was taken up to heaven on a chariot of fire. Elisha then returned to Israel in the same way, crossing the Jordan on dry ground to inaugurate his own prophetic ministry.

So Jesus begins his work anointed and ordained, given legitimacy by God’s own voice.

Yet the dramatic presentation at the Jordan River is not found in the Gospel of John. Instead, Jesus' baptism into his new work is rooted in the context of the burgeoning community he begins to gather around himself. Jesus’ identity and ministry is made meaningful by the community he forms, joins, and grows with throughout his life on earth. His work is intertwined with the work of humanity.

Jesus’ ministry and work were never separated from his identity as God’s beloved. But it was also fleshed out through and in his connection to the beloved community. There are eternal implications of the shared life of the beloved disciples with Jesus and the continuous work of recognition of their own humanity as a sign of baptism. All their work is rooted in baptism because each are called out by the voice of love, each are recognized in their humanity as God’s beloved. And this is what made their work for the kingdom possible. 

Mihee Kim-Kort (@miheekimkort) is an ordained Presbyterian (PCUSA) minister with degrees in divinity and theology from Princeton Theological Seminary and English Literature and Religious Studies from the University of Colorado in beautiful Boulder.

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