Most are aware of the Sabbath (which means “to rest” in Hebrew), where Moses taught that we should rest every seven days to glorify “The Creator,” thus giving us the week that we still use today. Fewer, however, are aware that the Sabbath also teaches that we should leave fields fallow every seventh year, to give the land a rest as well. Greta Thunberg’s weekly climate strikes, which have grown to include millions of people worldwide, essentially combines the practice of giving ourselves and nature a rest into the same day for the same practical reason of the Sabbath, to maintain the abundant nature of “The Creation.”
After escaping slavery where wealth was concentrated into a few hands and society was stratified into different classes, Moses taught the Hebrew people (numbering in the thousands) how to live in a scarce desert by reintroducing their tribal traditions from when they still lived with the land as indigenous people. Greta’s message is much the same, but this time it’s billions of people that need to be able to survive on an increasingly scarce planet that’s being overharvested.
The classical economic mindset that dominates our lives today is based upon the idea that nature is limited, but that our human appetites are not. This, however, breeds a take-and-hoard mindset that stratifies society, concentrating most of the wealth at the top and leaving the vast majority of the masses behind, much like the world today.
The Sabbath offers the opposite mindset by saying that nature is very abundant, if we only take what we need. It’s the same mindset that the Hebrew people used to work with the land before they were enslaved into the stratified society of Egypt and is still the mindset of indigenous people around the world today. A mindset that concentrates on meeting the needs of nature and the people, instead of what gives a few individuals extreme wealth and power over the masses.
So in some essential ways, Greta is like a modern-day Moses, asking us to slow down our consumption to a sustainable level so that humanity can live as responsible stewards of the earth, instead of ever-demanding consumers. And she’s going about it the same way, by leading weekly climate stikes that millions around the world have now joined. When the weekly climate strikes grow beyond the students and into the working world and then into our general society where everyone is striking for the climate once a week, then the practical idea behind the Sabbath will be re-achieved.
There is a third leg to the teachings of the Sabbath that even fewer people are aware of, the Jubilee.
According to the Bible, we are supposed to voluntarily forgive debts and free slaves every 50 years to prevent society from stratifying into slavery again. It is the “Good News” that Jesus talked so much about. (Wouldn’t it be good news if your debts were forgiven like when Jesus said, “Forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors?”).
Who knows, if we were to re-establish all three legs of the Sabbath — a rest for ourselves and nature so that we aren’t so stressed, a rest for the land so that it can become abundant again and a rest for the poor with a modern-day Jubilee — then, maybe we could achieve that other thing Jesus spoke of in the Lord’s prayer, where we live to live “On Earth as it is in Heaven.”
By David Phillips, Victoria, BC, Canada, former teacher at Watauga High School.