Violence and Profaning the Sabbath   1 comment

St. Paul

Above:  St. Paul the Apostle, According to a Bible Salesman’s Book from the 1800s

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor


The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God,

throughout time you free the oppressed,

heal the sick,

and make whole all that you have made.

Look with compassion on the world wounded by sin,

and by your power restore us to wholeness of life,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38


The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 31:12-18

Psalm 81:1-10

Acts 25:1-12


For this is a statute of Israel,

a law of the God of Jacob,

The charge he laid on the people of Joseph,

when they came out of the land of Egypt.

–Psalm 81:4-5, Common Worship (2000)


Many provisions of the Law of Moses carried the death penalty.  For example, committing blasphemy and adultery came with the risk of execution.  (This remains true in some cultures, and civilized people condemn these penalties rightly.)  Offenses against the holiness of God also led to the risk of death.  Thus committing religious rituals improperly led to a bad end.  And, in Exodus 31, profaning the Sabbath led to execution, for not keeping the Sabbath holy endangered the definition of Israel, indicated self-reliance (not dependence on God), and hearkened back to the Sabbathless work schedule of Hebrew slaves in Egypt.  And, as St. Paul the Apostle knew well, the mere accusation of having violated the Law of Moses led to the risk of death.  Ironically, his accusers were allies of the Roman Empire, a government at least as oppressive as the Pharaonic regime in Egypt.

I refuse to justify the fetish the Law of Moses had for the death penalty.  In fact, I refuse to make excuses for capital punishment, for I see a moral equivalence between an individual taking a life deliberately and a government doing so.  I also recognize disapprovingly the fondness many religious people and institutions have manifested and continue to manifest for political, social, and economic systems built on enforced inequality, on violence, and on artificial scarcity.

Exodus 31:12-17 also reminds us of holy time, something we ought never to neglect (yet ignore frequently).  We should live as free people dependent on God, not as slaves or cogs in exploitative and violent institutions and systems.  We also need time to reflect, relax, “recharge our batteries,” and just be.  Human dignity needs to assume a more prominent place in our societies, for people should matter more than wealth, property, and commodities.  That ethic–the image of God–ought to inform how we think of others, transforming our attitudes regarding those quite different from us and those whom we dislike and with whom we disagree strongly.  This is, I admit, a challenging spiritual vocation.  It is one with which I struggle, but I continue to try, with mixed results.

As for killing, it is unavoidable sometimes, sadly.  We live in an obviously imperfect world in which people, from time to time, permit circumstances to escalate to the point that death will constitute some part of the resolution one way or another.  I wish that this were not true, but it is the reality too often, “too often” meaning at least once.  Much of the time, however, killing is avoidable yet becomes the reality nevertheless.  I propose that, when one profanes the Sabbath (however one defines the Sabbath in the calendar), killing the profaner is wrong and avoidable.  Whom would Jesus execute?





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One response to “Violence and Profaning the Sabbath

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  1. Pingback: Devotion for Thursday Before Proper 4, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary) | ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS

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