I’ve lately completed David Klinghoffer’s book on the Ten Commandments, Shattered Tablets. In large part it is a conventional conservative critique of American culture, but along the way the author makes some interesting theological connections, especially when he draws on the long tradition of Jewish biblical commentary.
In unpacking the commandments, Klinghoffer consistently ties each commandment of the first tablet (five, according to the Jewish schema) with each of the five others, matching each pair horizontally across the two tablets (if you follow me).
This approach connects the fourth, keeping holy the Sabbath, with the ninth, not bearing false witness. All this by way of explaining how this trenchant passage appears in the chapter on the ninth commandment:
Many of us … suffer from the prideful delusion that what we do for a living the rest of the week simply can’t be neglected for a day, perhaps not even for an hour. We have a ‘moral responsibility’ to work!
This mistake has been greatly reinforced with the introduction in recent years of portable wireless communication devices … that allow people to do their work on the road, on the train, at home, on vacation. The impression we convey to ourselves is that our work is so terribly important that it simply cannot wait until we can reach a landline telephone or a desktop computer. The moral message of the BlackBerry is: God may have been able to take a break from His work, but not me! … At all times, I am indispensable!
The Sabbath delivers a sound beating to this kind of obnoxious pride in oneself and one’s ‘vocation.’
Not that there’s anything wrong with a healthy sense of vocation, or the so-called Protestant work ethic. To the contrary. I’ve long been convinced that work is actually more productive and beneficial to all parties when performed in accord with God’s laws, including the Sabbath commandment. Reminding me of John Paul II’s apostolic letter Dies Domini, which followed by some years his encyclical on the dignity of work, Laborem Exercens.