Sunday, August 06, 2006

Sabbath (Ar)Rest

In a USA Today feature “A Call to Honor the Sabbath,” Henry Brinton, a Presbyterian minister from Virginia, offers a fine essay, but one that does what so many essays on biblical themes do: it ignores the truth.

When Pastor Brinton honors the Sabbath, which he does every Wednesday (he works on Sunday which is why he cannot honor the Sabbath on Sunday which makes no sense since God says the Sabbath is Saturday, see Exodus 20:8) he goes for a long run (as opposed to Sunday when many of his parisioners think he runs long).

I have no problem with Pastor Brinton running on Wednesday or running on and on on Sunday. What bothers me is that he thinks God’s commandment (number 4 for those of you who are counting) is so flexible. God is not saying, as this essay seems to suggest: Thou shalt taketh a day off from work that thou might beeth more productiveth during the rest of the week. God is saying that we should cease all work on the Seventh Day because God ceased working on the Seventh Day. When we rest on Saturday we do so in remembrance of God.

God says of the Sabbath what Jesus says of Communion, do this in remembrance of me. If we were as loose with the latter as with the former, we would find millions of Christians skipping the church’s dry wafers or scraps of bread, and heading to Burger King (of Kings) for a Whopper.

God’s Sabbath is not about being more productive or taking long runs. It is about doing nothing. This is what is so hard about it. Doing nothing means the ego is still for a day. And a still ego is no ego at all. “You” exist only in doing. Stop doing and “you” stop being. And when “you” stop being, God is realized (though by whom is unclear). Hence: “Be still and know I am God.”

But what I really don’t get is how people make light of the Sabbath (as opposed to making Sabbath lights) when the Bible so clearly does not. Remember this story: Some people found a guy picking up sticks on a Saturday and dragged him to Moses for punishment (Numbers 15:32). The assumption here is that it is wrong to pick up sticks but ok to drag a person around while you look for Moses. Anyway, Moses didn’t know what to do since God had not yet been confronted by a stick-picker, so he imprisons the man while he goes out to ask God how to handle the situation. God, who might have preferred to rest on the Sabbath, does not blast Moses for bothering him, and rules that the man should be stoned to death by all the people. This proves that while picking up sticks is a capital crime, picking up stones to kill a guy for stick-picking is not.

Here is my point: If we are going to use the Bible to make some point, let’s be honest and use all the Bible to make this point. So Pastor Brinton should have told us why the church feels it can change the Sabbath to Sunday and why he feels he can change it to Wednesday. And at least find a way to work around the stick-picking thing. Otherwise you might as well admit you are making the whole thing up and go for a long run on Wednesday pretending this is the Sabbath and God has so commanded thee.

1 comment:

AaronHerschel said...

Nobody Move, This is a Stick-Up

Is it kosher to enforce the law on Shabbat? Apparently so. And I suppose this must be the point of the stick-picker story. A preventative tale to remind would be Sabbath stick-up men that the injunction aginst labour on Saturday is not an invitation to anarchy. Interestingly, the story also implies that maintaining the health of the community takes precedence over religious ritual.

I am, of course, disturbed by the implicit hypocrisy and complete lack of proportion evident in the community stoning this poor guy to death for collecting firewood or whatever. It's another example of what happens when society takes a slavish, rigid attitude toward the interpretation of law, and exactly the kind of thing critics attack religion for.

And yet it occurs to me there's no reason to assume Torah means us to take this incident at face value. It's possible the story is intended ironically. In which case, its Moses and Israel who are making a mistake, adn their insistance on narrow interpretation and brutal law enforcement actually undermines the spiritual health of the whole community, making them in fact far guiltier than the stickmeister.

The lesson here is that inaction, as well as action, has an ethical context.