Last year I remember hearing on the news that between 2008 and 2009 23 people working for French Telecom took their own lives. The company finally began to take a serious look at what was going wrong and realised that part of the problem was that they were just pushing their employees too hard. They couldn’t take it anymore, so the company began to change its work policy and take some of the pressure off. While it is terrible that it would come to that, I think it is also a good reminder that we are not machines and we are not just meant to be worked to death. Apparently the same thing has been happening in China where people were also being pushed too hard. We are not machines and there is a spiritual side to us which is just as real as the physical, and which also needs to be cared for if we are to be healthy.
Much of our society has gone like this, working like ‘the hammers of hell’. We don’t seem to know when to stop, or even how to stop. And now because Sunday is a shopping day there seems to be no beginning or end to the week. Shop owners will tell you that Sunday is now the busiest shopping day of the week. Even apart from a religious point of view, this cannot be good for us because we need to be able to rest, to just stop and do nothing. We are not machines.
‘Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things.’ Look at what Martha was saying to Jesus: ‘Can’t you see how much work there is to be done. Tell my sister to be busy too. She shouldn’t just be sitting there.’ But Jesus’ reply is interesting. He says that only one thing is necessary. He doesn’t just say that there is nothing wrong with her sitting and listening to him; he says it is necessary and that she shouldn’t be stopped from doing that. Stopping and listening is not just a nice idea, but it is necessary. Why is it so important?
There is an order to God’s creation. It will work a certain way and the Lord knows what we are able for much better than we do. And so the Lord gives us the Commandments as a kind of blueprint for living. Following these laws will help us to flourish as individuals and as a societey. The third commandment that God gave us is to keep the Sabbath, or Sunday holy. It is to be a day of rest, where God is remembered, where God is given priority; but also a day where we can rest and recover because we need it ourselves.
When the people of Israel (who represent all of us) were wandering through the desert, initially they had nothing to eat. So God provided them with manna, a food that they could collect each day. This sustained them for the journey. He also told them that they should go out and collect each day just enough for that day; but on the day before the Sabbath they should collect enough for two days, so that they could rest and give God priority that day. To put it in modern English, He said 'do enough shopping on Saturday so that you don’t have to go shopping on Sunday.' Sunday is to be a day of rest from unnecessary work, where we can worship God, relax, take a walk with family or friends. Why? Because we need it. It is necessary for our sanity. It is part of the order that God created. God is well aware of what we need, because He created us.
God also asks us to rest so that we can continually learn how to listen to him. I often hear people say they wish that God would speak to them more. The truth is that God is speaking to us all the time, but mostly we are not listening. Indeed to a large degree we don’t even know how to listen any more, because we have gotten used to being so busy.
Well you might be thinking that this is just how society has gone now and we should just get used to it; maybe 'father' here is just a bit over the top. But the point is that if we are following the way of Christ as we say we are, then we need to listen to what God is saying to us, even if the rest of society doesn’t. Christians have always been different and we should be different. I suppose we just have to decide ‘do I believe in this or don’t I?’ Do I really believe that this is what God is saying to us or not? If we do believe this—as we say we do—then we need to listen to what God asks of us and follow his directions, because they are there to help us. The order that God has given his creation, is not to make life difficult, but to help us blossom because God knows better than any of us what will help us grow.
‘Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things; only one thing is necessary. It is Mary who has chosen the better part; it is not to be taken from her.’