The Sabbath Seems Counter-Cultural But It’s More Important Than Ever


This principle may have varied in practice between and within Christian and Jewish traditions, but there is also something about this Sabbath principle that is of universal importance.

Synagogues and churches keep this rhythm of the Sabbath, a rhythm that is etched into the way we count the time and the days of the week. This was a pattern that was reflected in other related practices of ancient Israel, not only on a Sabbath day, but also a Sabbath year and the 50th year, the Jubilee year.

On these anniversaries people rested, fields and vineyards rested and in the Year of Jubilee, the one that followed seven to seven years, property rights were restored and social order was recalibrated. to the divinely ordained state of affairs. Obviously, the people of ancient times had as much trouble with these observances as we would if we took the statements of the prophets Nehemiah and Jeremiah as proof of their failure.

Why would the people of those ancient times, worried about their crops and their fields, not struggle? To them, and especially to us, these claims seem absurd. Not stopping with the assertion that this is enough, the Sabbath Principle asserts that the six sevenths is enough. Enough time to work, enough time to run our business, and most importantly, one day, give us enough time to rest like God did.

While the people of ancient times had a different understanding of the limits placed on humanity, we often act as if there are none, or if there are, they are there to be broken. In agriculture, we celebrate the double and triple cropping and we even strive to achieve four crops per year; we have raised sheep to constantly give birth to twins and triplets.

In this business and many others, watchwords are increasingly important. Investment products that exceed the market average, schools with extraordinarily good grades in grade 12, or high-rise apartment buildings naturally fit into our expectation of going over and under.

Expectations exposed

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how we have come to rely on that expectation. We easily react with impatience when a vaccine cannot be developed sooner. The experience of compulsion on our choice seems overwhelming. The limits we experience on our freedom or control collide hard with the expectations of most of us.

We are in an opportune place to reconsider the principle of the Sabbath and what its wisdom might mean in our day. I think there is a relationship between expectation and gratitude. The more we raise our expectations, the less we have this life-giving response that flows within us. Could we be happy with the six sevenths and be grateful for it? As we face the distinct possibility of a sustained economic recession, six sevenths enough can turn out to be a wonderful outcome.

Depending on our experience, our expectations can be set to more than enough or even much more than enough and six sevenths from enough can seem like a very bad result. I suspect that is the likely reality for a few years to come. We know that the burden of these things always weighs the heaviest on the poor, and the Sabbath principle speaks of this with universal restoration and participation in the Jubilee year as well.

The pandemic and the lockdown have exacerbated stress levels, but even without it, people constantly complain of being too busy. This ancient wisdom can make our lives much better.

Dr Philip Freier is the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne.

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