Thanks to the macinations of the plaintiff’s attorneys, I am spending most of my sabbath today ensconsed in my office with the Bankruptcy Code. For better or for worse, I have a job where Sundays at work are hardly unexpected and although I do my best to avoid them, it isn’t really possible to work at a K Street law firm and completely miss out on this particular fringe benefit. What is the precise scope of my sabbath violations and do I have any defenses?
Of course the easy — and no doubt correct — response is that working on the sabbath is a violation of the commandment in question and further discussions are little more than fruitless rationalizations for sin. However, I am wondering to what extent there are sabbath rules for the imperfect sabbath keeper.
For example, today I was able to attend sacrament meeting, but I missed out on Sunday School and Elders’ Quorum (no doubt much to their benefit). Hence, I have not entirely given up on keeping the sabbath. On the other hand if, as looks likely, I am here until dinner, I suspect that I will buy something to eat. Does the purchase of the food compound the evil of my sabbath breaking or is the violation perfected at the point when I pull into the law firm parking lot?
Generally speaking me and my ilk justify our sabbath sins with reference to the “ox in the mire” example offered by the Savior in Luke 14:1-6, which reads:
AND it came to pass, as he [ie Jesus] went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; and answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the asabbath day? And they could not answer him again to these things.
The story here is a bit ambigious for at least two reasons. First, Jesus offers the ox-in-the-mire example as a way of justifying healing on the sabbath. One might argue that healing is a particularlly meritorious form of service (as opposed to say determining the scope of the government powers exception to the automatic stay in bankruptcy), and it is the merit of this service that justifies some deviation from strict sabbath observance. Second, it is not clear from the context if the ox-in-the-mire example is meant to justify sabbath breaking, or if Jesus is merely suggesting that the Pharisee’s actions do not comport with their stated beliefs about the sabbath. In other words, is Jesus offering the ox-in-the-mire example as a legal exception that analogously justifies his healing, or is he offering it as an ad hominem against the Pharisees?
If the ox-in-the-mire is a legal exception, then it seems to suggest a much broader exception than that suggested by Jesus’s own actions. Healing the man of the dropsy seems to count as a meritorious form of service to another. In contrast, the ox-in-the-mire example suggests that sabbath breaking is justified to perserve a purely economic asset (the ox; or in my case, my job). Another interesting thing about considering the ox in the mire as a legal exeception is that it may provide a poor analogy to Jesus’s actions. Presumeably, leaving the ox in the mire until the end of the sabbath will result in the loss of the ox. In other words, the work in question cannot be delayed. In contrast, dropsy seems to be a chronic rather than an acute condition. Unlike the ox in the mire, the man with dropsy would be there at the end of the sabbath to be healed. Of course, there may be facts not available to us that eliminate this difficulty. Perhaps Jesus would not be able to get to the man after the sabbath because he was travelling through the town and would not be there to be healed after the sun set on the sabbath. (This would make the man himself into a sabbath breaker. Is this relevent or significant?)
Alas, I rather suspect that the ox-in-the-mire example was not meant as a legal proposition, but as an inditement of lawyerly hypocrisy. It was not meant to justify Jesus’s action but rather to point out the sins of the Pharisees. This would explain their silence in the face of Jesus’s question. In other words, it was not meant to explain the scope of exceptions to the rule that we ought to keep the Sabbath day holy by refraining from work, but rather it was meant to show that the Pharisees were hypocritical twits. All I can say, is that I am glad that modern lawyers never fall into hypocrisy or nit-picking.
And with that, I return to the facinating world of 11 U.S.C. 362(b)(4) and the true meaning of “the commencement or continuation of an action or proceeding by a governmental unit . . . to enforce such governmental unit’s or organization’s police and regulatory power.”