The Sabbath and Social Justice, Part 2

The Sabbath and Social Justice, Part 2 May 29, 2024


This brings to mind the historical accomplishments of labor movements and labor unions in our society today. One of those accomplishments is the eight-hour work day, which U.S., labor movements worked for as early as 1836. Another of these accomplishments is the five-day work week. Where the Sabbath commandment limited the 7-day work week to 6 days, here in the U.S. we’ve been able to begin the work week on Monday and mark the end on Friday. We see the five-day work week adopted as early as 1926 by Henry Ford in his automobile factories. By 1940, the Fair Labor Standards Act established the 40-hour workweek and two-day weekend across the United States. This was a landmark labor justice accomplishment. This is the spirit in which we should consider the Sabbath of Exodus. The God of the Sabbath is on the side of labor justice. The God of the Sabbath commandment in Exodus is the liberator of slaves (Exodus 20:2), protector of labor (Exodus 20:8-11), and even rested themself once at the end of creation (vs. 11).

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(Read this series from its beginning here.)

In our global economy today where capitalism reigns supreme, our economy depends on a never-ending, always-expanding growth. But eternal growth is not sustainable. Balance requires ebb and flow, action and rest, growth and contraction, tides going out and tides coming back in. We cannot always be producing. There must be time for rest, too. 

In his book Sabbath as Resistance, Brueggemann writes, 

“In our own contemporary context of the rat race of anxiety, the celebration of Sabbath is an act of both resistance and alternative. It is resistance because it is a visible insistence that our lives are not defined by the production and consumption of commodity goods.” (Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, p. 32)

In our reading from Mark this week, Jesus’ disciples pick some grain to eat as they walk on the Sabbath. This story establishes for Jesus’ followers that Jesus views the Sabbath not as an end in itself but as means to an end. In other words, the Sabbath was not the priority. The person was the priority that the Sabbath was instituted to protect. It was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath. Whenever any practice, Sabbath included, become death-dealing, we must reassess it and give way to more life-giving interpretations of it.

This section ends with a reference to resistance literature from the time of the Maccabean revolt: the book of Daniel and the Son of Man figure in chapter 7. In Daniel 7, the Son of Man is a symbol of liberation from oppressive, violent, and unjust empires. Mark’s gospel repeatedly refers to Jesus as Daniel 7’s Son of Man. It places the Sabbath under the Son of Man’s resistance and liberation jurisdiction and restores the Sabbath to the liberation and labor justice purpose we read above in Exodus. We see the Sabbath’s original intent even more when the commandments of Exodus 20 are repeated in Deuteronomy 5. Next we’ll take a look at how the Sabbath was directly tied to liberation and justice.

(Read Part 3)



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About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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