Further from the Mundane, Closer to God

“Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.” -Exodus 20:8

Dear members and friends,

It was probably about 3,200 years ago or so when Moses received the Ten Commandments from God, which included the commandment regarding Sabbath. The Hebrew word Shabbath is often translated as Sabbath in English. And Shabbath is from another Hebrew word, Shabath, meaning “to cease,” or “to desist from labor.” According to Exodus 34:21, the intention of God seems quite clear by saying, “Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest; even in plowing time and in harvest time you shall rest.”  However, if and when you would ask, “what does it mean to take such rest?,” the answer may not be very clear and simple. One reason is that taking such a rest was not a common practice for the ancient people simply because most of them could not afford to take a full day’s rest! 

So, what does it mean to remember the Sabbath and keep it holy? Does it mean to take an absolute break from any physical labor for the entire day? At the time of Jesus, that was the interpretation of Sabbath by the leaders of Jews, especially Pharisees and Sadducees. However, when we read the Gospels, we find that Jesus is intentionally breaking the strict notion and tradition of Sabbath. This gives us a reason to look for a deeper meaning of Sabbath, and what it means to keep it holy. One clue that I find is in the Hebrew word that is often translated as holy. The Hebrew word for holy is qadash, which means “to set apart,” “to be different,” or “to be hallowed.” In a way, to be holy seems to mean to set apart from others, who are focused on mundane things and matters, or to set apart ourselves from all the mundane matters in order to get closer to God. What this means is that the way of God can not be found in mundane matters to which humans are often fully attached. Thus, God is asking humans to be holy, not because they should be different from who they are, but because they should find a way to become who they truly are: the image and likeness of God. According to the Bible, humans were created to be like God, but later chose to be separated from God and fell far away from God. Therefore, the third Commandment is God’s encouragement for humans to return to their original form wherein they would find true peace and fulfillment. 

My brothers and sisters in God, let us listen to the voice of God who is always loving us and encouraging us to come back to God.      

Blessings, Rev. Junchol Lee