27 Then he said,“The Sabbath was created for humans; humans weren’t created for the Sabbath.- Mark 2:27 CEB
I think the above Scripture reference is one of the more familiar texts of the Bible. Unfortunately it’s familiarity doesn’t equate to an understanding of this saying of Jesus. Often it’s quoted by a would be Biblical scholar as a defense or justification for his or her upcoming Sabbath plans. The ambitious Bible quoter often fails to appreciate the context in which Christ made this quote and further seems to think that this passage ought be the starting point for a discussion of Sabbath rather than seeing it as a qualifier that it is. Now this is not to say those who quote this passage are completely off, and in fact there is value to considering Christ’s words on the matter, for they do serve to avoid legalism that can too easily befall this particular commandment. The fact is that many (myself included) could use a reeducation on Sabbath.
In comes Walter Breuggemann with his recent text Sabbath as Resistance.
Now before I jump into a full review of this work, I want to say a quick word about the author. I first encountered Breuggemann in a class called Pentateuchal Narratives. His commentary on Genesis from the Interpretation Commentary Series was assigned reading. Now I had never read a commentary front to back up until that point and honestly hadn’t put it on my bucket list; this work proved to be an exception. The Interpretation Series was intended to be an accessible commentary for preachers, and indeed that proved to be the case in the Genesis Commentary along with accessibility it contained profound insight from Breuggemann and great engagement with the Old Testament as a whole. In fact, in Breuggemann I found a scholar very comfortable in the world of Old Testament narrative. His comfort was contagious and sparked in me a new passion for the Old Testament.
I later read An Unsettling God: The Heart of the Old Testament, Word Militant: Preaching a De-Centering Word, and Prophetic Imagination. Each reading experience further endeared me to Brueggemann, for his works challenged and stretched me to find home in ideas like covenant, resistance to empire, and remembering the God that delivers.
When given the opportunity to read and review Sabbath as Resistance, I was eager and happy to oblige. The text was short and sweet, ringing in just short of 100 pages. It was an easy read and a great introduction to this scholar and his great mind. The book is six chapters long: the length of the week leading up to the Sabbath and also coincidentally the perfect length for a Small group series. I decided to pattern my reading after the week starting chapter one on a Monday and finishing chapter six on Saturday ( the original Sabbath); I then allowed Sunday to be my Sabbath. This proved to be a great week of reading and reflection. I would encourage it to any that may decide to read this work.
For Breuggeman, the Sabbath is “the “crucial bridge” that connects the Ten Commandments together” (Brueggeman, Loc. 128-129, Kindle). Working along that premise, Breuggeman structures his book starting with Sabbath and the first commandment and finishing with Sabbath and the tenth commandment, with each chapter in-between dealing with the varying modes of resistance that accompany a proper keeping of Sabbath. This structure is agreeable and keeps the reader engaged. I’ll let the reader discover how Breuggeman connects Sabbath to resisting coercion; it is powerful.
This text is primarily concerned with resisting the culture of consumption which can never be satiated nor satisfied. For the Israelites, their burden was brick making that Pharoah might build more storage for grain he had in abundant supply. For us it is a pursuit of a dream. In both situations there remains an illusion of satisfaction. I remember as a child laughing at the cartoon horse that would endlessly chase the carrot on a string dangled out in front of it. What a silly horse. He’ll never be satisfied!
I think that horse would have company with us as we endlessly chase more; more money, more stuff, more acceptance.
Brueggeman shows that the restless ways of our world lead to a need to over produce.The over production leads to over consumption (We made all this stuff come buy it!) The need to get more to make more to do more leads to anxiety and eventually the anxiety finds expression in violence.This is a rather dire situation but not one without hope.
Sabbath provides rest from restlessness, reminds us that God’s ways are not our ways (Thank God!), and gives us tangible resistance to an insatiable system that we are freed from.
Brueggeman provides clarity on an oft muddled commandment, a commandment that ought have a loud voice in our anxiety riddled society.
I encourage you all to check it out!