It is interesting to compare the scriptures on the Sabbath to our present day practices.
In the old testament the Lord tells the Israelites that they are not to work on the Sabbath, nor to allow those who are strangers staying with them to work on the Sabbath, nor to allow their maid servant nor any one else to work on the Sabbath.
Then along come the Pharisees, who turn the Sabbath, tithing, and a handful of other virtues into extreme overcompensations for rationalizing away their own misbehavior in the serious matters such as justice, judgement, mercy, faith, and sexual purity.
When someone takes something good so far that it becomes a vice, one of the bad side effects is that onlookers may determine that the good thing wasn’t of any particular value. And the Pharisees do seem to have had that effect on us. We don’t really look at any of the scriptures on the Sabbath previous to them. It is as if the Pharisee’s over compensation with that commandment had rendered the previous discussions null and void.
Previous to the Pharisees the Lord told the Israelites that if they would not keep his Sabbath day holy then he would give them into the hands of their enemies and leave the land desolate, so that the land could rest during its Sabbaths.
Now Christ pointed out that when our ox is in the mire, we pull it out, even on the Sabbath. But his counsel seems to have been twisted out of all common sense as to what he intended by it given the other scriptures on the matter. Christ’s example endorses the need to handle unanticipated emergencies. But that is very different than feeling like you can’t insist that your religion forbids you from working on the Sabbath day at any whim that your boss might have. An employer that likes to keep its doors open on Sunday is not an unanticipated ox in the mire.
It was in a culture of individuals insisting one’s religion prohibited working on the Sabbath that most businesses were closed on Sunday a century ago.
Instead we have taken the scripture to mean: As long as an employer doesn’t actually like having you take Sundays off, you should not work on the Sabbath.
Why can’t we just say “that is against my religion”, or “it is against my religion to work on sunday”? Is the Lord’s hand shortened at all that he cannot make up for whatever troubles standing up for his commandments will bring about? Would we not find ourselves enjoying greater blessings, not fewer, if we determined to keep the Sabbath day holy?
We must not corrupt Christ’s counsel about unanticipated emergencies into a personal parable of the ox that lives in the mire.
In the LDS faith our devotion to this principle has become so watered down that it approaches a statement of “My religion is that I can only work on Sunday if my boss suggests that it might be a good idea, or if it would be beneficial to the company, or if I really have a lot to do, ….”
Can we really say our situations are more desperate than the third world people of Israel trying to raise crops for their families? For those people the financial questions were not about keeping up with the Jones’s. Their constant financial question was “will we starve to death, or will we have enough food to make it through winter”? Have any of us really ever faced that kind of financial question, i.e. will I watch my family starve to death? No, we have not. We are fooling ourselves if we pretend that we have faced any financial troubles that touch on the daily burden of poverty among the truly poor. And yet it was precisely to those sort of people that the Lord initially said “Ye shall not work on my holy day”. It was clearly a significant sacrifice he required of them.
Whatever the cost is initially of determining to keep the Sabbath day holy, we will be blessed for keeping those commandments far more than we will for rationalizing them away to almost nothing.
Now, in the tradition of making any advocacy for a commandment into a straw man, I will go ahead and say it for those of you that wanted to: “But what about hospitals and other emergency personel, and what about electricity, and ….?”. Yes, you must be right, the Lord wants everyone to be spineless about working on Sunday if there are women having babies on Sunday, or even if there may be oxes that are stuck in the mire. You are right. If there are emergency exceptions, there can’t possibly be a rule.