Third Sunday in Lent (Year B)

Consider whether our current relationship to rest’s opposite—work—is a good or healthy one

Christ Cleansing the Temple, El Greco, before 1570.
Painting by El Greco of Christ Cleansing the Temple, National Gallery of Art via Wikimedia Commons; licensed under CC0.

March 3, 2024

First Reading
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Commentary on Exodus 20:1-17

Laws or commandments, especially those in the Bible, are not usually the favorite topic of discussion or sermons in the church. Despite this disregard and disinterest, most would agree that the laws found in Exodus 20:1–17—known as the Ten Commandments or the Decalogue or, in Judaism, as the Ten Words (“I am the LORD your God” is viewed as the first word)—are of key importance. Indeed, the Hebrew biblical text hints of their significance as these laws are repeated, with some minor variation, at Deuteronomy 5.

The differences between these laws in Exodus 20 and in Deuteronomy 5 are telling. For example, the reason for the Sabbath in Exodus is so Israel can mimic God’s original creative act (imitatio Dei) (20:11).

In Deuteronomy, however, the reason for the Sabbath follows from Israel’s previous experience as slaves before their deliverance by God (5:14–15). The implication is that the Israelites sorely needed rest but did not receive it during their enslavement until God’s great act of redemption. As a result, the Israelites are to empathize with those who are not yet free by sharing and passing on to others the rest that stems from God’s saving act, especially to those who are still enslaved, be it literal or metaphorical.

Hence, Sabbath rest in Deuteronomy, as in Exodus, also centers on mimicry in that it mimics the progression from Israel’s past, oppressed self to its new, divinely delivered self, where it can finally find rest. The practice of the Sabbath therefore embodies and recalls the movement from slavery to salvation.

The different reasons given for the Sabbath, in that they center on rest, nudge us to consider our current relationship to rest’s opposite—work—and whether it is a good or healthy one. The answer seems obvious, at least in the United States. Articles on overworking, burnout, stress, and quiet quitting seem to indicate that our relationship to work—and therefore, by extension, to rest—is deeply dysfunctional.1

This topic of work and rest brings up other topics and questions that might be of importance to discuss in churches, such as the pressures and never-ending work of parents, the invisible labor of women, the socioeconomic challenges faced by many, and the greed of corporations and companies that use people’s labor for maximum material gain. Relatedly, this topic easily leads to thinking about the ways in which our identity or self-worth is centered on our work or employment.

The question of rest and work also raises questions about our relationship to technology and social media. Can we truly rest if we are “connected” technologically or reachable at all times? The problems caused by technology, especially social media, also intersect with several other laws mentioned in Exodus 20 (and Deuteronomy 5), such as the jealousy of God and the related prohibition against idolatry (20:3–5) and covetousness (20:17).

The definition of idolatry, when applied to the modern context, should not be limited to worship of idols or cult images. Rather, idolatry can be expanded to anything—fame, power, money—that rivals God for our attention or focus or that we treat as more important than or as important as God. Considering that the average person in the United States spends more than six hours on the internet per day,2 it is not difficult to think that technology and media have become a form of idolatry—one that negatively impacts our relationship with others.

So egregious is our addiction to technology that there is now a term to describe the practice whereby people ignore those in their immediate company so as to pay attention to their phone: “phubbing” (“phone” + “snubbing”). Unsurprisingly, phubbing is bad for our relationships and also for our mental health. Disrespectful and damaging to our relationships, addiction to technology seems rather idolatrous.

Relatedly, technology, especially social media, not only steals our attention but also amplifies our envy—and therefore our covetousness, a misdeed explicitly warned against in some detail at Exodus 20:17. “Social media increases envy because it … shows you the lives of people more fortunate than you; it is easier than ever for anyone to flaunt their good fortune to the masses; and it puts you in the same virtual community as people who are not in your real-life community, making you compare yourself with them.”3

The purpose of these laws was to support and create the right relationships among people, their community, and their God. It should therefore be unsurprising that the contravention of these laws—as reinterpreted for the modern context—leads to dissatisfaction and dysfunctionality—that is, the very opposite of right relationships. As reported, the jealousy and covetousness created by social media lead to misery, depression, and unhappiness.4 Hence, despite their antiquity and perhaps lack of popularity, the Ten Commandments or Ten Words, insofar as they tell us how to live better lives and have better relationships, are still relevant and important today—or perhaps even more so.


  1. Judith Shulevitz, “Bring Back the Sabbath,” New York Times Magazine, March 2, 2003,
  2. Andrew Perrin and Sara Atske, “About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Say They Are ‘Almost Constantly’ Online,” Pew Research Center, March 26, 2021,
  3. Arthur C. Brooks, “Envy, the Happiness Killer,” The Atlantic, October 20, 2022,
  4. Belinda Goldsmith, “Is Facebook Envy Making You Miserable?,” Reuters, January 22, 2013,
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Hosted by Ghost Ranch in New Mexico July 29-August 2, 2024, this conference is for preachers who want to learn, workshop, discuss, renew, and worship together.