Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise:
Read Chapter 6
Ambrose of Milan
The ant is a tiny creature, yet it ventures to achieve things beyond its strength. It is not driven to labor as a slave is. Rather, without compulsion and with freedom of foresight, it lays up provision for a future day. Scripture admonishes us to imitate the industry of the ant: “Go to the ant, you sluggard, and consider her ways and be wiser than she.” [The ant] has no land under cultivation. Yet, without a taskmaster to urge it on as it looks after its stock of food, what a harvest has it in store for itself—a harvest gathered from the results of your labors! While you may frequently be in need, it wants for nothing. There are no granaries closed to the ant, no guards impassable, no stores of grain untouchable! The guard sees and dares not prohibit the theft. The owner gazes on his loss and exacts no punishment! Over the plain moves the dark column. The paths are aglow with the concourse of voyagers and particles of grain which cannot be seized by their narrow jaws are being heaved ...
[The sluggard] has not imitated the ant. He has not gathered to himself grains while it was summer. What do I mean by “while it was summer”? While he had quietude of life, while he had this world’s prosperity, when he had leisure; when he was being called happy by all, while it was summer. He should have imitated the ant, he should have heard the Word of God, he should have gathered together grains, and he should have stored them within. But there came the trial of tribulation, there came upon him a winter of numbness, a tempest of fear, the cold of sorrow, whether it were loss, or any danger to his safety, or any bereavement of his family; or any dishonor and humiliation. In winter; the ant falls back upon that which in summer it has gathered together; and within its secret store, where no one can see, it is replenished by its summer toils. When for itself it was gathering together these stores in summer, every one saw it: when on these it feeds in winter, no one sees. What does this ...
Why should we dwell upon the amount of evil there is in idleness, when the apostle clearly prescribes that he who does not work should not eat. As daily sustenance is necessary for everyone, so labor in proportion to one’s strength is also essential.… The Lord couples sloth with wickedness, saying, “Wicked and slothful servant.” Wise Solomon, also, praises the laborer not only in the words already quoted, but also, in rebuking the sluggard, associating him by contrast with the tiniest of insects: “Go to the ant, O sluggard.” We have reason to fear, therefore, lest, perchance, on the day of judgment this fault may also be alleged against us, since he who has endowed us with the ability to work demands that our labor be proportioned to our capacity.
[Let us ponder] Solomon’s sending us to learn wisdom from the ants, urging the sluggard to profit by their example. I began to weary of my capacity and to yearn for the cells of the monastery and to desire the comfort of the solicitude of those ants in whose community all worked together and where, since nothing belonged to anyone, all possessed all things in common.