There are shutdowns that make us cringe and there are shutdowns that bring us to our better selves. This year the two kinds overlapped. Both shutdowns are about economics, i.e., how we live together in the one house in which we all dwell for a speck of time on a small planet in a vast universe. The English words ‘economy’ and ‘economics’ derive from the Greek word for ‘house’ and the management, or governance, of the one house in which we live.
In previous essays on Views from the Edge and chapters of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, we have sought to point to this saner view of life together in the nation and the planet. Saying it again feels like banging my head against a wall, but the coalescence of the government shutdown date and the Jewish Sabbath commandment to shut everything down — Shabbat — prompts this reflection.
The Hebrew word ‘Shabbat’ comes from the root Shin-Beit-Tav, meaning to cease, to end, or to rest. The shutdown in Washington, D.C. and the Fourth Commandment shutdown could not be more different. The one is a product of control; the latter is about ending the illusions that come from production.
“Remember the day, Shabbat, to set it apart for God. You have six days to labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Shabbat for Adonai your God. On it, you are not to do any kind of work — not you, your son or your daughter, not your male or female slave, not your livestock, and not the foreigner staying with you inside the gates to your property. For in six days, Adonai made heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; but on the seventh day he rested. This is why Adonai blessed the day, Shabbat, and separated it for himself.” — Exodus 20:8-11 [Complete Jewish Bible].
You don’t have to be a seven-day creationist to “get” the meaning of the Hebrew Scripture’s call to stop and think. Step back. Pause. Respect your son, your daughter, your workers, the animals, and the foreigners within your national borders. Shabbat is not just the owners of the means of production but for ALL who labor under the yoke — an enduring sign and call of a better household management (economics) yet to come in the one house (the economy) in which we all live.
Practicing his Jewish faith, Jesus of Nazareth kept Shabbat and aligned himself with the laborers when he invited would be followers to join him in a kind of revolution that would turn the tables on the money-changers and lift up the have nots: “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Jesus was comparing the landless poor to oxen in the the fields of production, driven hard under a yoke that chafes and cuts into the oxen’s neck and shoulder, the yoke of economic cruelty and the burden that is anything but light. Rabbi Jesus was invoking the substance of the Fourth Commandment: the vision and practice of Shabbat economics.
Could the juxtaposition of the different shutdowns be clearer than when they are invoked on the same day of the week?
Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 22, 2018