My father was a voracious Sabbath-keeper. Our home was a no-work zone every Sunday. No chores [and I always had chores], simple meals, no school homework [it was expected to be done before Sunday]. Our neighbors, who were not particularly religious, even noticed. Sunday for my father consisted of church, listening to Billy Graham and Oswald Hoffman [of The Lutheran Hour] on the radio and a “Sunday drive” to visit with any of the myriad of family who lived in our community. But absolutely, positively no work. I asked him once why we lived this way [even acts of kindness, such as washing his car, was frowned on] and his reply was “that’s the Commandment,” but I always assumed that it was all because he was exhausted. He worked in a mill [he was a brick mason] 10 hours a day and the late shift Friday into Saturday. I think he was exhausted, so exhausted that the sight of work was even too much for him to bear.
Because of this growing-up experience, things about Sabbath-keeping usually catch my eye. This week an article in an online journal Aeon caught my eye. The article, “Let’s bring back the Sabbath as a radical act against ‘total work’” by William R Black, considered the rather radical nature of Sabbath. Sabbath is a radical idea in a culture bound up in consumption and a never-ending desire for ‘more.’ But one paragraph in the article really caught my eye. Black wrote:
“The Sabbath’s radicalism should be no surprise given the fact that it originated among a community of former slaves. The 10 commandments constituted a manifesto against the regime that they had recently escaped, and rebellion against that regime was at the heart of their god’s identity, as attested to in the first commandment: ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.’ When the ancient Israelites swore to worship only one god, they understood this to mean, in part, they owed no fealty to the pharaoh or any other emperor.”
“The 10 commandments constituted a manifesto against the regime that they had recently escaped, and rebellion against that regime was at the heart of their god’s identity.” I’ve read a lot of stuff, a lot of Biblical interpretation, but I’m not certain I’ve read anything quite that radical. The 10 Commandments are a manifesto against slavery and the gods that would enslave us. I don’t know about you, but that makes me think about the 10 Commandments, the ‘Law,’ in a whole new way. The 10 Commandments are not a bunch of rules, “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” they are a declaration of freedom. This even casts Jesus’s own commentary on the law, that the greatest commandment is to love God and the second is like it, to love your neighbor as yourself [St Mark 12:28-31] in a new light. This is more than a couple of rules. Loving God and loving our neighbor is an absolute act of revolution. Living this way is an absolute act of rebellion against the gods of the world. For me, this is a completely new way of understanding the Commandments, the Law, and gives them a powerful new meaning.
I’m tempted to think that my father would have liked the idea that laying on the couch and listening to a sermon was act of rebellion. I’m intrigued that being one of God’s people turns us all into revolutionaries. Who would have imagined? I think Jesus did.