What a Difference an “s” Makes

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

“Woman, why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

–          John 2:1-11

 

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.  Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart.  Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people, because you know that the Lord will reward each one for whatever good they do, whether they are slave or free.

–          Ephesians 6:5-8

 

“’Good Works’ in the plural is an expression much more familiar to modern Christendom that ‘good work’.  Good works are chiefly alms-giving or ‘helping’ in the parish.  They are quite separate from one’s ‘work’.  And good works need not be good work, as anyone can see by inspecting some of the objects made to be sold at bazaars for charitable purposes.  This is not according to our example.  When Our Lord provided a poor wedding party with an extra glass of wine all round.  He was doing good works.  But also good work; it was a wine really worth drinking.  Nor is the neglect of goodness in our ‘work’, our job, according to precept.  The Apostle says every one must only work to produce what is ‘good’.

The idea of Good Work is not quite extinct among us, though it is not, I fear, especially characteristic of religious people.  I have found it among cabinet-makers, cobblers, and sailors.  It is no use at all trying to impress sailors with a new liner because she is the biggest or costliest ship afloat.  They look for what they call hew ‘lines’: they predict how she will behave in a heavy sea.  Artists also talk of Good Work; but decreasingly.  They begin to prefer words like ‘significant’, ‘important’, ‘contemporary’, or ‘daring’.  These are not, to my mind, good symptoms.

–          C. S. Lewis, ‘Good Work and Good Works’

 

When I wrote the title, I thought of things that go far from the topic.  I knew it would get me into trouble.  In a Skiles and Henderson comedy sketch, one of the duo blurts out, “Keep your shirt buttoned, Clark!  Nobody wants to see your little red ‘S’!”  With that mental image, your vision of the classic phone booth scene in Superman is ruined forever.  Then, the young people in the audience don’t know what a phone booth is.

 

My second thought was of an old Allan Sherman song, One Hippopotami.  The first verse goes, One hippopotami cannot get on a bus, Because one hippopotami is two hippopotamus.  And if you have two goose, that makes one geese.  A pair of mouse is mice. A pair of moose is meese.”  My favorite line in the song can only be understood by the well-seasoned reader – “And when Ben Casey meets Kildaire, that’s called a paradox.”  But the entire song is about either plurals that do not end in “s” or words and phrases with “para” or “pair of” that have nothing to do with plurals.

 

Yet, C. S. Lewis’ essay employs the letter “s” in the same vein as Allan Sherman.  The “s” does not make the word a plural, as used with the word ‘good’.

 

There is a classic management principle that says: On Time, Quality, and Low Cost – You can have any two of the three.  The concept being that if you attain the highest quality at the lowest cost, it is going to take more time than allotted.  If you push for the deadline, you will either suffer on quality or you will pay someone overtime, driving up the cost.

 

I had a boss that demanded all three.  Around the coffee pot one day, one of the other guys muttered that he wanted to go into the boss’ office, rip his ‘all three’ plaque off the wall and burn it.  It was impossible.  Someone else said that it was only possible because the boss violated company rules.  He modified everyone’s timesheet after they had turned the timesheet in.  He falsified the hours so that the projects did not go over budget.  Besides, he cared practically nothing about quality.  The boss would squawk, “Quality!  Quality!  Quality!” on occasion, sounding more seagull than human (and adding to the rumors that he really was insane), but he would quickly let quality slip to meet the deadline.

 

With the woe-is-me stories going on, I, being the new guy in the group, found enough nerve to speak.  I suggested, “There is another way to get all three.  We are engineers.  We are salaried.  We do not get overtime pay.  We do not get compensating time off when overtime is required.  Thus, we are slaves to the boss’ will.  The boss can work us to death.  We work 24 hours in a day, and only 8 hours goes on the timesheet – that’s by company rule.  Our only other option is to quit.”

 

The others told me to never speak at another coffee klatch again, and never bring what I said up when the boss could hear.  The odd thing is that I don’t drink coffee.  I was just listening in on the conversation.

 

Let’s look at the Scriptures.  We read Ephesians and we dismiss the first part of Ephesians 6 because we are not ‘slaves.’  But many of us are, in a way.  In that we worked very hard to get the job that we have, and we’ve tested the market.  We know that no one else is hiring for our particular skill set.  If you are like me, you don’t restrict yourself to your hometown, but you look nationwide.  I knew when absolutely no one in the USA was hiring in my career field.  I have worked as a training person / engineer in the technical fields of nuclear physics, rocket science, and steel and other metals manufacturing.  I’m flexible, but most employers see something that disqualifies me every time, including the wondrous catch-all, overqualified.  There was no way that I would do anything to jeopardize my job.  So, as a self-imposed slave, I obeyed my masters and did everything to outperform my boss’ expectations.

 

I had a new boss one time (actually two bosses later) who inherited me when two departments were combined.  I was being groomed to be the next manager before the reorganization, but then they combined the two groups and I was back at the bottom again.  I put a proposal together for a new project since my new boss knew nothing about what the old department did.  I sold the contract at the asked price, and then delivered the finished product under budget.  My new boss seemed to not notice.  The next time, when I submitted my proposal for his review, he reduced the price by $5,000.  I asked, “Why?”  He said that I had proven that I could do better than the estimate that produced the price.  The next time, after being under budget again, he lowered the price again by $5,000.  I protested that he was devaluing the value of the product.  Our company had expertise that the customer needed.  That knowledge had value beyond hours worked.  All he saw was hours worked, and a lower price meant more sales.  One of my new friends in the combined group pulled me aside and said, “Quit getting the jobs done under budget.  He’ll kill you.  He’ll keep under cutting the price until you have a heart attack trying to keep it under budget.”  He was wrong about increased sales.  The customer interest was even less, because it wasn’t ‘worth’ as much.  It was that lowered ‘value’ of the product that eventually got me ‘retired’.

 

Now let’s look back at C. S. Lewis’ other Bible reference, the wedding at Cana.  Tradition for wedding feasts is that the fine wine is provided first.  Once the alcohol has started to affect everyone a little, the second-rate wine is provided.  It still must be good, because the guests aren’t drunk yet.  By the third day, as stated above, the wine is rot-gut, ‘wine-in-a-box’, anything with alcohol – flavor and aroma optional.  Yet, there are two miracles instead of one.  Jesus turned water into not just wine, but quality wine.  And the other miracle is that the master of the banquet suddenly became sober enough to be able to determine that what he was drinking was the ‘good stuff’.

 

If we have Jesus in our hearts, we should have a burning desire to produce the ‘good stuff’.

 

One little letter, “s”.  May we always do ‘good work’, especially when we are doing ‘Good Works’.  The needy will take anything, but when they get our best effort, they get more.

 

Oh, Lord, may no one find a typo in this post.  Writing on this topic provides its own minefield.  Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria.  Glory to God Alone.

 

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