Does anyone keep the Sabbath anymore? I’ve come to the conclusion that the fourth commandment the most ignored of the Ten Commandments. If we did keep Sabbath, I wonder how our thoughts about our undocumented neighbors might change.
The Old Testament books of Exodus and Deuteronomy each contain the Ten Commandments. In both books the forth commandment is relatively the same – Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. – but the rationale for a weekly day of rest and worship is different. In Exodus (20:8-11) the people’s work is to cease because God ceased the work of creation on the seventh day. In Deuteronomy (5:12-15) work ceases as a testimony to the people’s new identity; they once were slaves in Egypt but had been rescued by God’s “mighty hand and an outstretched arm.”
In these two versions of the fourth commandment we find two profound reasons for stopping our work for weekly rest and worship. First, we are reminded of the character of the God in whose image we are made. Second, we are reminded of our former identity as slaves and our new identity as the people of God.
With these two reasons for Sabbath as a backdrop, the commandment itself comes into sharp relief. In both Exodus and Deuteronomy the day of rest is generously given to all those under the Israelites’ influence: your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor the alien within your gates. The Israelites are reminded that, though they were created in the image of a God who worked and rested, for hundreds of years their dignity had been taken as their identity as God’s children had been marred with something else: slaves. But now there were rescued and called to experience life as God intended, life that reflected God’s character and their identity.
The Israelites had been commodities to their slave masters. Their value came from what they produced and accomplished. No longer was this the case. Their value now came from the One who rescued them. The fourth commandment was an invitation to live into this new life and to extend it to all those under their influence. No person among the Israelites was to be reduced to a commodity. Everyone, including the alien, was worthy of a life of dignity.
What happens when we ignore and neglect the Sabbath? It’s possible that our view of God’s character is diminished and we certainly struggle to know ourselves as God’s accepted and beloved children. In a culture that speaks of human capital and judges value by our productivity, Sabbath could be a weekly reminder of the dehumanizing impulses behind such language. Sabbath-keeping would also reorient us towards Christ who once-for-all rescued us from our enslavement to sin. No longer can we be judged as commodities, valued for what we can accomplish.
I’ve come to believe that Sabbath keeping also changes the way I view my undocumented neighbor. Isn’t this what we find in the forth commandment? The alien too is worthy of a life of dignity. When I keep Sabbath I cannot help but wonder who in my neighborhood doesn’t have the ability to stop working. I wonder about the individuals and peoples who have been reduced to a commodity, valued only for what they can do, produce, or accomplish. In other words, keeping Sabbath leads naturally to loving and caring for my undocumented neighbors.
We keep Sabbath not as a legal requirement but as those redeemed by the “Lord of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:28) As we live out a rhythm of work and rest we learn to see our God more clearly, ourselves more accurately, and our undocumented neighbors with ever increasing compassion and love.
David Swanson is the pastor of New Community Covenant Church in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood. He blogs regularly at http://davidswanson.wordpress.com/
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