Today’s first reading from Isaiah advises us to “keep the Sabbath free from profanation.” Sounds a lot like the third commandment: “Remember the Sabbath — keep it holy” (Ex 20:8).
So, if you are sitting in church this weekend, you can probably feel pretty reassured that you are keeping the Sabbath holy. And since you aren’t using any bad words, any link to profanity is out the question too.
However, the word “profane” means more than “irreverent” or “sacrilegious.” It can also mean “secular” or “every day.” “Profane” comes to us from Latin roots that mean “in front of the temple.”
In Jesus’ day, “in front of the temple” was where common, everyday life took place — both good and bad. Merchants worked in front of the temple. They performed helpful services: selling the right animals for sacrifices and changing Roman coins (profane items) into acceptable offerings.
However, Jesus got upset with the merchants.
They were “making my father’s house a marketplace” (Jn 2:16).
A similar thing can happen in our lives — Sunday can lose its holy aspects.
Profaning the Sabbath can mean a lot of things, but most of them are tied with bringing what’s out “in front of the temple” (the secular) into the realm of what should be inside the temple (the holy).
The Sabbath is the day God rested after the work of creation. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean God sat around the house and let creation fall to pieces. However, it means that God took time to enjoy what had been created. He reveled in the fact that “it was good.”
In the same way, we are called — once a week — to enjoy creation’s goodness.
In Jewish law, there are 39 categories of labor that are forbidden on the Sabbath. Most of these deal with work — everything from starting a fire to using stoves.
Why? Lori Palatnik, founding director of the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project and the wife of a rabbi, explains that it’s to remind Jews that they are not creators of the universe. And, if God — the true creator — can take a break, so should we.
“On (Sabbath),” Palatnik wrote, “… We remove ourselves from creating in order to reaffirm that we do not have mastery over our lives. Someone else is in charge.”
Taking one day a week to remember that we’re not in charge can help us recharge. Mass is a great start. For the rest of the day, find other ways to keep yourself in “the temple” frame of mind. Turn off the cell phone and go outside to listen to the birds or see the sunset.
Kasten is an associate editor of The Compass and the author of many books.