Lesson Eight: Sabbath and Justice
Primary Scripture: Isaiah 58
I’ve met a lot of wonderful Presbyterian women in the last year at events all over the country. One of the things I’ve heard most consistently has been the remark, “Wow! I didn’t know Sabbath had anything to do with justice.” Well, hear the good news, Presbyterian Women—it does!
Our first clue that Sabbath and Justice are a kind of “sister act” is in the Sabbath commandments themselves. The Sabbath commandment in both Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5 makes it very clear that Sabbath is a gift intended for everyone. That makes it a justice issue. If some people get to enjoy the Sabbath and other people don’t, then something is wrong with that picture from God’s perspective.
So, recognizing this close connection is key for understanding Sabbath. But it’s not all we need to understand. At the risk of sounding like one of those late-night TV commercials (“But wait! There’s more!”), the Sabbath/Justice sister act is not for only one day of the week. Celebrating the Sabbath means living lives of justice all week long.
Sabbath isn’t just something we do to re-charge our own batteries. Sabbath is something that is designed to change the way we look at life. It’s meant to spill over every aspect of our lives—our work, our play, our relationships, our votes.
No wonder the prophet Isaiah linked Sabbath with things like letting the oppressed go free and sharing our bread with the hungry—with loosing the bonds of injustice and bringing the homeless poor into our houses (Isaiah 58).
I talked a bit about this when I was at the PW gathering for the Synod of the Sun in New Orleans last July. During a break a woman named Kendall Cox came up to me and handed me a book. “You need to read this!” she said with a twinkle in her eye.
She was right. I did need to read it, and I hope you will, too! The book was called As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson. It’s a beautifully illustrated children’s book that should be required reading for all grown-ups who care about faith and justice. Here’s what the publisher’s blurb has to say about it: “Here is the story of two icons for social justice, how they formed a remarkable friendship and turned their personal experiences of discrimination into a message of love and equality for all.”
While all of us have heard of MLK, we may not have heard of Abraham Joshua Heschel. Heschel was a Jewish rabbi whose most famous work is a book called, The Sabbath.
So, maybe that friendship isn’t so surprising after all. If Sabbath and Justice are sisters, then it makes all the sense in the world that MLK and Heschel would be brothers. God, I suspect, must have smiled when they met—just as God must smile when we remember to celebrate the Sabbath by living lives of justice all week long.
Carol M. Bechtel
author of the 2022-2023 PW/Horizons Bible Study
Additional resources to use with this lesson:
Music: “Come! Live in the Light!/We are Called” (Glory to God 749) responds to the prophet Micah’s question, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8, NRSV)
Children’s Book: As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Toward Freedom by Richard Michelson; illustrated by Raúl Colón (Random House, 2008, 2013; ISBN: 978-375-83335).
Presbyterian Women in the PC(USA), Inc. publishes an annual Bible study. Celebrating Sabbath: Accepting God’s Gift of Rest and Delight is the study for this year. Purchase a Celebrating Sabbath bible study book and study along with us. Call 800/533-4371 and order product #HZN22100 or order online
This blog is the eighth in a series of nine blogs written by the study’s author Carol M. Bechtel. PW will post a blog each month through April 2023 or until all nine blogs have been posted—whichever comes first.