Among the commercials debuted during the Super Bowl this year was a new ad featuring Dolly Parton singing “5 to 9,” a revamped version of her 1980 hit “9 to 5,” to promote the web hosting company Squarespace.1
The premise of the ad is that if your day job (the 9 to 5) is unfulfilling, then with hard work on your “side-hustle” in the remaining hours of the day (5 to 9), you can eventually “make your 5 to 9 full time,” as the commercial’s tagline goes. It’s a compelling ode to entrepreneurship, conveying optimism and affirming, at least partially, the possibility of vocation—that one’s work could offer “deep gladness.”
Perhaps inadvertently, though, the ad also exposes the brokenness of work in our world today. For many workers, the rise of the side-hustle is not a move to replace their current day job but to add to it: simply a strategy to make ends meet. The stringing together of multiple jobs to equal one whole one is especially prevalent in today’s “gig economy,” where work comes à la carte, without benefits or job security or days of rest. Even for those with a steady and fulfilling career, the ad reinforces a subtle, yet long-dominant cultural message that more work, harder work, is always a virtue, a moral end unto itself. Work bleeds into every hour of the day, 9 to 5 to 9 again. Work harder—work all the time!—and inevitably you will find happiness.
This week the lectionary juxtaposes John’s account of Jesus’ overturning the tables of the moneychangers in the temple with the Decalogue—the Ten Commandments. This pairing immediately draws my eye to the sabbath commandment in particular, because both the Gospel text and the sabbath commandment emphasize setting apart the sacred. In the Decalogue, the emphasis is on sacred time; in the Gospel text, the emphasis is on sacred space. In both texts, it is the market—production for the sake of economic gain—that impinges on the sacred.
In the sabbath commandment, all work ceases for one day for every member of a household, including the animals. That can be an extraordinary “opportunity cost”: money effectively lost when one does not seize the opportunity to make it. Walter Brueggemann has repeatedly emphasized the economic implications of the sabbath, both for the ancient context and for our current era. He writes that “sabbath concerns the periodic, disciplined, regular disengagement from the systems of productivity whereby the world uses people up to exhaustion.”2
So often in the church when we speak about work and money we talk with chagrin about our consumption, our seemingly insatiable need to have more “stuff.” Indeed, this kind of consumerism is a toxic drain on both ourselves and the planet. But Brueggemann’s words remind us that there are also economic systems and societal expectations that consume us.
We are eaten alive by the expectation that more work should make us happier. We are eaten alive by the expectation that work is a noble end to itself, even if that work is for inadequate wages in deplorable conditions that can kill body and soul. Pastors in particular can be eaten alive by the expectation that doing the “Lord’s work” requires ignoring one’s own financial needs, or the body’s need for rest, or a family’s need for time together.
The sabbath commandment speaks a defiant “no” to our culture’s glorification of the hustle.
To be sure, there is much work to do that requires our energy and attention: good work, justice work, Gospel work, kingdom work. Indeed, advocacy for fair working conditions and adequate wages is itself an urgent task. Yet the Torah reminds us that rest is allowed—required!—from even the noblest work—including, Working Preacher, your own.
As Jesus expels the sellers and their commodities from the temple, he shouts, “Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” (John 2:16) Among its many implications, this admonition reminds us that in addition to time set apart from the market, there must also be holy spaces upon which it does not intrude. The emporium within the temple may have angered Jesus for its emphasis on wealth, or for its collusion with the Roman Empire, but there has also been a boundary broken between the holy and unholy, between the sacred and the profane.
In these days when many of us are unable to congregate in our traditional sacred spaces, and when remote work has further blurred the lines between our 9 to 5 and our 5 to 9, it may feel especially difficult to find places and times that are set apart for holiness. We can do our shopping and our worshiping, our working and our movie-watching, all in the same room—on the same screen! But sabbath rest is not something else that we have to produce. Sabbath rest is a gift to us. Holiness is the resting state of God. We are called simply to be with God and not with the marketplace.
Our worth in God’s eyes is neither dependent on nor measured by our work hours or our economic output. Idle hands are beloved by God, too; indeed, God gifts us the sabbath commandment as an act of grace and love, as a way of participating in God’s own holiness. Time for a break, Resting Preacher.