I have thought lately upon the difficulty of putting into practice the Sabbath in our non-stop-over-working world.
For we understand from scripture that the Sabbath is ultimately a proclamation of freedom – freedom from the need to justify oneself, the drive for success and the exploitation of all and any possibilities of enhancement of one’s self.
This is why such laws and regulations are tied to it. It isn’t easy to just drop everything and just ‘be’ – it has to be learned. Hence, the scripture’s strong measures of ‘socially sanctioned no-work days’ and the habitual compliance of rest.
This insists that the Sabbath is not only needed for the body but also for the soul. And our inability to stop working is a form of slavery. We need rest from the anxiety producing mindset of overwork and production.
Freedom from this slavery is what the Sabbath is all about.
It is liturgically enacting the gospel’s proclamation that we don’t have to prove ourselves, meet expectations, or gain meaning through the cultures’ various projects of self-esteem. This is good news indeed.
So that’s all well and good.
But the question then becomes: what about those who don’t get to enjoy the peace of Sabbath rest because of forced labor or hard situations? What about those who have to work to provide meals for their families all day every day and whose lives are so unpredictable that one day without work could mean a day without food or one month without a place to sleep?
Is the Sabbath rest just a luxury for the materially well-off?
Could we then say that one is in poverty in-so-far as one is not able to take a Sabbath rest?
Would that let us say that ‘poverty alleviation work’ should be an aim towards the poor’s ability to rest one day a week without the strong possibility of not eating?
What about production managers who won’t allow a day off for any of their workers in order to run the ever-producing factory? More disturbingly, what if those ‘slave managers’ are enslaved themselves by having to meet a particular production quota? And then what if their bosses are actually enslaved by the consumers’ never-ending demand for more or different products, which includes pretty much everything we purchase in any given retail and wholesale store. (This is of course, reminiscent of Pharaoh’s system of production and consumption that had as its major output, a systemic anxiety that pervaded every level of the society (Genesis 47)).
The system of slavery becomes a vicious-cycle of anxiety and un-rest. And according to the scriptures; it has its roots in the refusal of the Sabbath rest in the first place.
So what do we do when almost all are enslaved by a system that systematically rejects the possibility of Sabbath rest?
Is our willful compliance with the system driving this whole Sabbath rejecting machine? As Christians, are we indicted through our silent consent with the system?
Finally then, like the fasting of Isaiah 58, does our ‘Sabbath keeping’ lose meaning if our brothers and sisters are not able to practice it alongside us? Would God rather us lose our Sabbath sacrifice in order to work tirelessly for the possible Sabbath rest of our brothers and sisters?
Does our Sabbath rest cry out to God against us – nonchalantly singing – ‘are we our brother’s keeper”?