The third commandment sounds easy.
The simple way I learned about it as a Catholic was to remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Most importantly, that meant going to church every Sunday. The obligation was never hard to oblige. I’ve always enjoyed going to church, even as a kid.
But what about after church?
Exodus 20, from the Old Testament, doesn’t leave much wiggle room. “Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day. Six days you may labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord, your God. No work may be done…In six days the Lord made the heavens and earth, the sea and all that is in them; but on the seventh day he rested. That is why the Lord has blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”
Refrain from work. When possible. Many must work on Sundays—health care workers, public safety employees, service industry staff—and I’m thankful they do. Some people must take a second job and work weekends just to meet their financial responsibilities and to provide for their families. But the message is clear—don’t work on Sunday if you don’t have to work.
I like to putter around the house on Sunday—doing a few household chores and yard work. It makes me happy to rack up little accomplishments that got let go during the week and to restore some order back into our family’s home and life. And while I respect businesses that close on Sunday, I’m thankful that others are open because sometimes it’s the best day to get groceries and restock the refrigerator for the coming week. Sundays can also be great days to go shopping with my daughter or to compare fantasy football notes with my sons.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that in addition to the obligation to worship, “The institution of the Lord’s Day helps everyone enjoy adequate rest and leisure to cultivate their familial, cultural, social and religious lives.”
The New Testament speaks to keeping the Sabbath in several passages as well, but it was John 5:17 that grabbed my attention recently, while reading the Gospel.
We know the story of how Jesus cures a paralytic on the Sabbath, and of how the unbelievers begin to persecute him for it. Healing is considered work, and work is not allowed on the Sabbath. What some may not know is the response Jesus makes because John 5:17 is not included in the three-year rotation of readings for the Sunday Mass. Jesus says, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.”
Scholars believe that Jesus’ response has more to do with his desire to convey that he is the Son of God to the unbelievers than it is about making a statement about Sabbath laws.
Still, it got me thinking. My Father is at work until now. The Father’s work of loving and caring for us is never done. So I am at work. The Son’s work of conveying that love is a constant invitation.
Continuous and not cyclical.
Cyclical is how we are taught to think of the third commandment. For six days we work. Then we don’t. For one day we honor the Lord. But then…
I buy into the continuous way of thinking. I believe we’re all lifelong learners, faith formation is a journey, and that love never ends. I more easily relate to this fluid, and not intermittent, way of thinking.
Maybe it’s enough to worship the Lord as a community of believers on Sunday and spend the rest of the day doing good—for others and for ourselves. Whatever that looks like, for each individual.
The other five or six days, we must earn a living. But for most (with the exception of parents with young children!), this doesn’t require a 16-hour work day. We can hopefully carve out a bit of time, even on work days, to rest and reflect on the goodness of God.
I’ve often felt a subtle disconnect with the third commandment, but I couldn’t articulate why until I reflected on this passage. It’s not that keeping the third commandment is any great burden. It’s that the goodness of God can be found in every day of the week, just as we can find goodness in our efforts and entertainment after the Sunday Mass. We can’t miraculously heal people, like Jesus does. But we can heal others through the power of presence—building up relationships by just connecting and being there for them. And realizing that some of our Sunday work is really just love in action—showing we care for others by what we do for them.
My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.