Olympic gymnast Simone Biles was (and continues to be) disparaged by many for her choice to bow out of the games after developing a dangerous case of what gymnasts call "the twisties." I'm thankful for her courage in modeling resistance to our culture of overwork and exploitation. As usual, she is proving to be a champion of champions—this time for resting rather than performing.
I stand in awe of how Biles has chosen to love and care for herself over and despite the sacrificial perfectionistic messages that are so drummed into us by our culture—a culture shaped more by capitalism with its emphasis on consuming, extracting, hoarding, and exploiting labor than by Christian principles.
I want to remind us that rest—or Sabbath in scripture—is a form of resistance to tyranny.
How so? Last weekend, I preached on the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with loaves and fishes from John 6:1-14 and realized it is fundamentally about the fact that God loves us because of who we are, not because of the work we do.
Phillip breathes in the fresh sea air, then sits up and rubs his eyes eager to gaze into the distance.
What on earth?! He stands to get a better look, and the other disciples come running. Hordes of people trudging toward the mountainside. What if the crowd grows unruly?
Jesus stands in front of the crowd, calm and thoughtful.
He turns and smiles, “Think you can rustle up some food for these folks?”
Phillip feels his face grow hot, “You have to be joking! Jesus, it would cost a half a year’s wages to feed them all!”
The boy then takes the basket and gives it to the first cluster. He gestures for others to do the same. People pull what they have from their packs and cloaks. They eat. Warmth and camaraderie spread through the crowd as they share a meal. Jesus then asks them to collect the leftovers. “Leftovers?” Philip murmurs. Sure enough, they each collect a basket full of bread. One for each of the twelve. Then Philip understands. Manna, from heaven. The remaining baskets, proof of God’s promised abundance, including a day of rest.
The author of the book, by evoking the manna story, is making two moral points. First, God tells the people when collecting manna to take no more than they need for each day. A few poor souls try to get rich or bank it. The next day they open their baskets to find them maggot-infested. God’s point: don’t be greedy, and do not hoard. God then tells them, on the sixth day, to gather enough for two days so that they can rest on the sabbath.
A colleague once told me that his father frequently told him, “Always look over your shoulder because there will always be someone coming up behind you to knock you down and take your place.” This belief played out in their work habits of competitiveness and the tendency to overwork. We are all susceptible to this, and we all deserve better.
Don’t let the empire turn you into a unit of production or influence you to turn others into such. Resist this norm by following God’s model and commands to make time for rest, for the community, for spiritual nurture, for mindfulness. Trust God’s abundance and let go of the scarcity mindset. If Simone Biles can throw off the yoke while the world is watching, you can too.
This article originally appeared on the author's website and is republished here with permission.
Reverend Jennifer Butler is the founding CEO of Faith in Public Life, which works to change the narrative about the role of faith in politics, wins major policy victories, and empowers religious leaders to fight for the common good. Jennifer spent ten years working in the field of international human rights representing the Presbyterian Church (USA) at the United Nations. She’s the former chair of the White House Council on Faith and Neighborhood Partnerships. She is the author of Born Again: The Christian Right Globalized and Who Stole My Bible?: Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny.
Title image: The Gathering of the Manna by James Tissot, c. 1896-1902, public domain.
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