When Is Your Ox in the Mire?

Hawkgrrrlapostasy, church, General Authorities, General Conference, obedience, orthodox, prophets, questioning, salvation, spiritual progression, spirituality, sports, theology, thought 35 Comments

You probably know the Primary song about Sunday observance by heart:

Saturday is a special day
It’s the day we get ready for Sunday
We brush our teeth and we go to the bathroom
So we don’t have to do it ’til Monday

Well, that’s how my sister and I used to sing it anyway.  So, how liberal or orthodox is your interpretation of Sunday observance?

Rescuing one’s “ox from the mire” is a Mormon euphemism for breaking the Sabbath.  This phrase (sort of) originates in the NT when the Savior was accused of doing work when He healed a man of the dropsy on the Sabbath.  The Savior’s response is in Luke 14:5:

5 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?

This begs the following questions:

  • Why do we say “ox in the mire”? There is no “ox in the mire” in scripture referring to Sabbath breaking.  My theory is that it’s because people are too dainty to use the accurate phrasing.  So, the next time you are caught in a questionable Sunday activity, just say, “Sorry, bishop.  My ass was in a pit.  This was just one of those “ass in a pit” situations.”
  • So, when (to re-coin the original phrase) is one’s ass in a pit? The answer varies greatly from person to person.  There are some who would go so far as to not read the newspaper or turn on the TV on a Sunday.  There are others who will eat in a restaurant on a Sunday if it is a special occasion.  Our classic “ass in a pit” scenario occurred a couple months ago when we awoke to find the second story of our house had flooded overnight.

I found an interesting talk from 1972 that included results of a study.  The study showed that most active members shopped at least once per year on a Sunday (43% once per year, 21% 6-10 times per year, 32% 1-2 times per month, and 4% nearly every Sunday).  Active members were asked to respond to a variety of situations to see if they would “break the Sabbath” (percentages indicate the % of respondents who agreed it was warranted):

  1. Someone is sick and needs medicine (98%)
  2. To buy gas to attend a distant church meeting (82%) – this might be perceived differently now that most gas purchases can be done with no human interaction.
  3. At church, you discover there is no bread for the sacrament, so you buy some at the store (46%)
  4. The car needs gas for personal use (42%)
  5. Your parents want to take you to dinner (38%) – my parents would never suggest such a thing.
  6. Friends are visiting from out of town, and you take them to dinner rather than cook (31%)
  7. You go to dinner for a celebration with a significant other (28%)
  8. Friends are coming over, and you need to buy snacks to serve them (25%)
  9. Your son gives a talk at church, so you take the family out for ice cream as a reward (15%) – hopefully the talk was not on keeping the Sabbath day holy.
  10. You get a run in your pantyhose (11%) – not sure how the men responded on this one
  11. There is a “Sunday-only” sale and you really need to save money (11%)
  12. Someone you like asks you on a date (8%) – not sure how the marrieds answered this one, unless they were also flexible on adultery . . .

Here are some that were not on the list that I would add:

  • Pool owners – do you swim on Sunday?  (My parents claim there are alligators in the pool on Sunday; since they live in Florida, they might be right.)
  • Do you vacation as a family on Sundays?  (Which usually involves things like restaurants, hotels, buying gas, air travel, etc.)
  • Do you purchase from vending machines on Sunday?
  • Do you speed on Sundays, causing policemen to work in order to give you a ticket?

These numbers might be different if the same questions were asked today, although I suspect they are pretty similar today.  So, when is your “ass (or ox) in a pit”?  Is it the same or different than your family’s threshold?  Your in-laws?  Your spouse’s?  (And let’s try to avoid the Sabbath = Saturday rigamarole that has already been addressed at Gen Conf ad nauseum).  Discuss.

Comments 35

  1. One of my favorite things I’ve ever heard in a lesson at Church (or was it a talk in Sacrament Meeting?)

    “It’s OK to pull your ox out of the mire on Sunday … as long as you didn’t spend all day Saturday pushing it in!”

    You may interpret that as you will!

  2. the vending machine thing is funny.
    The point of not buying on sunday is to boycot all the places where people work so as to force them to keep Sabbath day holy. So not buying from vending machine does not make sense to me.

    As far as you question goes I’ll say that I do whatever I need that will break from the rest of the week. If I have been perfect the whole week I guess I will enjoy a good porn instead of going to church just to keep a balance in my life.
    All right, I am indeed exagerating on this one but you get the idea.
    I may read the scriptures, I may watch TV, I may spend time on the internet…it is really about “resting” so as to gather strength for the coming week than anything else. Yet I try to rest in a way that will uplift my spirit rather than involve myself in activities that will be pretty much a lose of Time.

  3. Sabbath to me is about recharging. I never watch TV so I won’t on Sunday, either (which doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t watch a DVD that won’t drive away the Spirit). I have made a point of not shopping on Sundays, though – which doesn’t mean that I won’t fill up the tank if I need to, because there’s nobody working at the automated filling station, or something like that.

    Like Gwennaëlle, I think “no shopping on Sunday” is partly so that people won’t be required to do non-essential work on Sundays (at least for us). But part of it is that shopping is taking care of “worldly” or “temporal” things, which is the opposite of what the Sabbath is supposed to be. We’re even supposed to prepare our food in “singleness of heart”, which I have always thought to mean that we’re not to go for elaborate feasts on Sundays.

    When it comes to going to sports events or the like, I would refrain but I know a lot of other people aren’t so particular.

    So for the big question of when to do something that’s normally inappropriate for me on Sunday? I’ll just evade by saying “emergency”. Like having to go for emergency medical care. Or finding out that something that worked just fine yesterday isn’t working today and you really need it. Definitions vary…

  4. Saturday is a special day;
    it’s the day we get ready for Sunday.
    We trim up our hooves and we polish our horns.
    Now we’ll have to be good until Monday.

  5. If someone is really sick on sunday, I’ll get medicine. Otherwise, I don’t shop. What’s the biblical wording. “Thou shalt do no work, neither thy maidservant, nor thy manservant, nor the stranger that is within thy gates.” Or something like that. I’m not looking it up…and I don’t even know the exact reference, but that’s the phrase that rings through my head. Folks, it’s not just about not working, it’s also about not causing other people to work. It’s about respecting that the day is meant to honor the Lord.

    What is appropriate on the Sabbath? I see a lot of people interpret the day as a day of ‘rest’, but I think that more importantly we use the day as a day of sanctification. We call upon the Lord in a more ardent fashion than normal. So yes, we go to church, then we do things like study the scriptures, home teaching, visiting teaching, and other wholesome activities designed to bolster our spirits. In theory.

    In practice, I have church at 1pm, and the whole day is shot because of it, and I just don’t really know what to do. I’ll be glad when the schedule flips back around and we are going at 9am again.

  6. If your Ox is in the mire (which is probably derived from an alternate translation, pit = mire) then you should pull it out, but if your Ox is in the mire every Sunday, then maybe you ought to be doing something earlier in the week to prevent it.

  7. Gwenaelle – LOL! Great response!

    Personally, I would consider myself a pretty good Sunday observer. Some of my exceptions: I am okay with swimming on Sundays which is a low impact activity (swimming yes; pool party no). We are sometimes on vacation on Sundays, although we might go to church or try to limit our activities (sometimes with more success than other times). On my mission we took public transportation on Sundays.

    I love the scene in Amelie when she tries to put money in the beggar’s cup at the train station, but he says no thanks because he doesn’t work on Sundays.

    What I think is interesting is that to my in-laws, we’re uber-orthodox. But to my parents we are total heathens. I suppose it’s all relative.

  8. I probably fail to keep the sabath around once per month, usually when visiting my non-member family. Occasionally, we will notice the missionaries have had nobody volunteer to feed them Sunday dinner. When this happens, we will usually sign up last minute. Several times we’ve done so without enough in the fridge to make a decent dinner, so I’ll sneak over to the store.

  9. I remember when the study was published. Personally, I think the study is part of what prompted Spencer W. Kimball, when he became president, to place such extraordinary emphasis on sabbath observance. I suspect that a survey during his administration would have yielded very different results. Since President Kimball’s passing, though, I think sabbath-keeping rhetoric has returned to what it was before, and I suspect that, except for those of us who came of age during President Kimball’s administration, sabbath observance has tended to return to the levels reflected in the 1972 survey.

  10. I too have my own family thinking I’m super-pious, and my in-laws thinking I’m a heathen.

    An added bit of weirdness…I’m a professional classical musician, and so I actually avoid (secular) classical music on Sundays, as the way it works in my mind, it gets me thinking of “work.” So while one person might, say, listen to a Beethoven Symphony on a Sunday (as a foil to Coldplay or Metallica during the week), I wouldn’t. Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is a different story, of course.

    Ultimately I think it’s useful to not become overly litigious about this, trying to find ways or excuses to not keep yourself unspotted. But as we’re judged according to our own light and knowledge, I think how well we keep the Sabbath will be determined in a relative, rather than fixed or absolute, way.

  11. Hawk,

    Fun post. One quibble, a general observation, and a couple of specifics:

    Instead of liberal and orthodox in regards to a practice, I would prefer the terms observant and non-observant, which are more equivalent. Reform Jews may not be orthodox according to the Torah, for instance, but many observe the Sabbath…

    It is my general observation of my own life, family members, friends, mission companions, roommates, etc. that our Sunday behavior is learned and for the most part varies only somewhat from the Sunday behavior we learned as kiddos.

    For instance, I was raised with the notion that it was kosher to watch TV on Sunday after 5pm. On the other hand, it was not kosher to listen to mainstream popular music, and even Saturday’s Warrior may be pushing it a bit. We would never have dreamt to go to a restaurant unless we were traveling.

    I noticed a division growing in my extended family with this issue as a symptom. Family get-togethers on Sunday as I got older would involve some cousins who would relax by shooting hoops or playing touch football. I got the sense from my parents this was not approved in our immediate family, so I abstained. When I got into high school, the family fractures were more intense, and I began to see it was a bit silly to have a religious rule get in the way of my relationships with the family I saw more rarely. So to the chagrin of my parents I began to join in the outdoors fun.

    Today Sunday observance is an area where I am more observant than some who are more orthodox in matters of belief than I, although once in a while I will skip a multi-stake conference broadcast to take the family up into the canyon for a barbecue.

    I do like the sense that Sundays are different than Saturdays somehow, I just don’t like when I feel sanctimonious for observing them.

  12. Sounds like a lot of pharisees looking for some way to enforce the Law of Moses to me. Can’t swim, buy from vending machines and on and on;) God rested on the seventh day no where does it say he didn’t go for a swim in his new ocean or hang out with Adam and Eve playing cards does it?

    Pres McConkie addressed this while I was at Ricks College in a devotional. He pointed out you need to be realistic and pick your best choices for the day. He encouraged us to watch football on TV if that was better than the alternative. He did hope we could find better things to do but you get the drift. There is a reason we do not have mandatory lists of do’s and don’ts. I personally have found a long afternoon drive to help bring the family together and talk and joke with each other. Going for a hike after church or bicycle ride are wonderful Sunday activities. To sit around and read scriptures all day for me is 30 minutes of reading and 4 hours of napping and that is the real thing that people do. I sit at a desk all week and need something physical to do or I start the week in bad way.

    This is one of those bad Sunday lessons I usually leave early from. Way to many extremists when it comes to this issue. I highly recommend having some fun with your kids on Sunday whatever you feel is fun (even fishing). Clearly there is a line that you shouldn’t go over like force others to work but lets not go to extremes remember this was one of the excuses that the Pharisees used to kill Jesus over. He healed the sick and a whole list of things that the pious leaders tried to enforce to show everyone how important they were. I truly believe that is where a lot of the more extreme don’ts come from a need in ourselves to feel superior.

  13. So, the next time you are caught in a questionable Sunday activity, just say, “Sorry, bishop. My ass was in a pit. This was just one of those “ass in a pit” situations.”

    Classic, I’ll be using this soon I’m sure.

  14. “the Pharisees used to kill Jesus over.”

    The Romans killed Jesus. i am a defender of the Pharisees. they weren’t that bad. See my earlier post on the subject.

  15. So, I have been looking for the reference to where the “ox is in the mire” came from. Anyone know? It’s not in scriptures that I can find.

    if you “google” it, all references are LDS.

  16. re #8 #13 lol Public transportation to actually get to church on a Sunday was the first thing that sprung to mind when I read the post – bus now, and taxi in another country we lived in where dh didn`t feel happy with me and the kids negotiating the buses on our own. If I couldn`t pay money to the human driver who is working on a Sunday, then getting to church would be a lot more difficult (all day walk, anyone?)

  17. Here’s where the “ox in the mire” expression comes from. Technically, it should be “ox in the pit”:

    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 sabbath day?

    Luke 14:2-5.

  18. Sabbath observance is one of those things that, like the word of wisdom, may have some secondary effects. The word of wisdom is obviously about health, but it has the side-effect of making us different than everyone else, and that leads to discussions, questions, etc. I’ve found that even my liberal (to me, at least) interpretation of sabbath observance has attracted the same general type of notice from those who don’t treat it any differently than any other day. Any time I decline an activity for myself, or veto it for one of my kids, someone else knows that I actually BEHAVE based on what I believe instead of just believing it and then doing whatever I want.

    It makes a difference for others to see that, and it is entirely possible to communicate your sabbath observance in matter-of-fact, non-preachy terms. I just wish I really believed that my ass was in the pit when my 3on3 team makes it to the finals on Sunday. (They won, by the way. does that make it a blessing or a punishments for me?) 🙂

  19. Do we look toward our leaders as examples?

    I once sat in a stake conference where Thomas Monson was presiding. We were instructed to remain in our seats after stake conference, so that Thomas Monson could leave immediately after the meeting to catch a flight.

    Do you know where GA’s go between conference sessions on Sundays? They are served meals by people who are working on Sundays.

    We can make Sabbath Day obervance ridiculous, rather than a day where we do things “differently” than the rest of the week and spend quality time with our family. Lists of do’s and don’ts are inappropriate. How we spend the time is between us and God and I don’t believe the same activities have the same meaning to everyone.

  20. The best is making eye contact with another member of the ward in the grocery store on Sunday. Both parties without speaking understand and acknowledge that “this event never happened.”

  21. Is is wrong to do good on the sabbath day? Is “good” defined only as church service or something the church says is OK?

    When I asked the first question while on my mission, my leaders were not happy and I was sent to the bowels of the mission to learn to be “humble.” You have no idea just how much work can get done when you are that far away from the boss…

    I currently live in a suburb of Utah. Any of you who have traveled know that the church is very different outside of the “corridor” than in. Here, very little outside of church service is considered ok. Where I grew up in the midwest, it was defined as uplifting and edifying activities. You should see the looks I’ve gotten from the locals here when I’ve made comments on this and other topics.

    In my prideful, arrogent, and borderline antisocial opinion, I believe that activities that help you bond with your family, get you closer to our Heavenly Father, and help you be the best person you can possibly be are OK. If you work ridiculus hours and want to play ball with your kids on Sunday, it should be OK. If you’re at a rare family get together, bond with them.

    Strict observance to the letter of the law is spiritually counterproductive. Embracing the spirit of the law leads to spiritual growth.

  22. Jerry,

    “So the pharisees (with the scribes) didn’t have Jesus killed. Maybe I read the wrong bible.”

    Perhaps so, but the scriptures may say “The Pharisees” but being the largest Jewish sect, it could have been any number of people but probably not all. Some of those who conspired against Jesus may have been Pharisees and Scribes, but not all Pharisees and Scribes were involved.

    I’d be like saying The Mormons killed the people of the Fancher Wagon Train. too general to be true.

  23. #22:”How we spend the time is between us and God and I don’t believe the same activities have the same meaning to everyone.”

    Absolutely true. I have a friend who really likes to chop wood on Sunday. It’s often his best opportunity to have a block of time free to do it, and to him it isn’t a chore, but a relaxing outlet. He claims that he does a lot of his best thinking, and most of his spiritually focused thinking as he wails away at the logs. My last bishop was pretty horrified to learn of this Sunday activity and said something like “I can’t believe he thinks that’s okay.” So I said something like “He probably feels the same way about watching NFL games after church.” (we sometimes watch them together. Perspective can be fun to provide 🙂 He has had ample opportunity to return the favor.

  24. I believe that Sabbath day is a day reserved to assemble and worship as a community. In theory business transactions keep people from participating in the assembly. Hence the brethren counsel to not make purchases on Sunday. But in recent decades what is kosher and what is not on the Sabbath day has been largely dictated by popular culture. While at BYU it was a popular belief that doing homework on Sunday was against the Sabbath. I even met a girl who questioned whether it was good or not to work at places that made others work on the Sabbath. Many believe that watching television or playing sports on Sunday is breaking the Sabbath. It seems that these are largely personal choices and hopefully people do not push their interpretations on others. Personally I pretty much do whatever I do on other days on Sunday, with the exception that I go to church. I do homework, watch TV, movies, play games, visit friends, play sports, etc. I my job had me work on Sunday, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.

  25. Adopting a pharisaical (sp) approach, the Sabbath zealots should not buy a Monday morning newspaper. Monday morning newspapers are written, laid out and printed on Sunday. Thus, buying a Monday morning paper to read about the football games the ultra-pious among us refuse to watch out of some spiritual principle forces a lot of people to work on the Sabbath. Once when my driving my overly zealous Sabbath honoring mother to the airport for her flight on a Sunday, I asked how she squared her strict Sabbath observance with traveling on Sunday. Without missing a beat she explained that since she didn’t purchase her ticket on a Sunday, it was okay. We all still laugh at that one, including her. On my mission I was told by a GA to get lunch at a local fast food place on a Sunday afternoon when a scheduling mix up led to way too many people showing up at the mission home for lunch. We quickly obliged. I guess the ox was in the mire, but our a**es were in a local fast food place on a Sunday afternoon. (I don’t recall if we took off our nametags before we went in.)

  26. …they did gather themselves together on one day of the week, which day they did call the day of the Lord…after the people had all offered up thanks, they returned to their homes, never speaking of their God again until they assembled themselves together again by the holy stand. (Alma 31:12,23)

    The Pharisee’s 614 ‘thou shalt’ and ‘thou shalt nots’ did a very good job of replacing the true intent of religion with a set of manageable tasks. If we allow our thinking to be such, we stand to miss out on the original intent of the gospel, to bring people to Christ.

  27. This topic has long been a favorite of mine and has become more important of late as some of my attitudes have changed. I grew up in Utah Valley, but have lived outside it most of my life.

    I live in an area now, where most of our kid events are on a Sunday. Also, for a time, we sent our kids to a Seventh Day Adventist school. They worshiped on Sat so Sunday was the day for birthday parties and the sort. We just started sending them.
    Things I’ve done.
    Gone to, attended, participate in horse shows. Actually taking care of the animals is a very common Sunday activity.
    Gone to swimming and Martial Art competitions. Spent money to get in, stay there, and cheered when my kids did well.
    Recently I’ve started treating Sunday as a fairly normal day. Today (Sunday) I took my wife to breakfast for our anniversary and then came home and mowed the lawn. Following that, we took our kids to be in the play they are in for the Christian Youth Theater group they are part of.

    We are heathen. Hear us roar….

  28. Jeff said: “I’d be like saying The Mormons killed the people of the Fancher Wagon Train. too general to be true.”

    Really? I wonder what the Fanchers would have said about this, you know, assuming they had survived.

    Q: Who tried to kill you?

    A: Oh, just some people, most of whom happened to be Mormon, though their religious identity and convictions were a mere coincidence.

  29. We often travel home from visiting relatives (4-5 hours away) on Sunday and generally buy gas and sometimes eat out (although we sometimes pack a lunch).

    But, my favorite is a family in our ward in California. They had pizza delivered every Sunday. Why? Because the husband felt it was breaking the sabbath for the wife to cook. (Wallow in the irony for a while, huh?) Of course, this was the same guy who, when he was exec.sec., brought fresh doughnuts to a Sunday morning bishopric meeting.

    The bishop always wrote it off with, “Well, John’s a convert, you see.”

  30. “I’d be like saying The Mormons killed the people of the Fancher Wagon Train. too general to be true.”

    I suggest that you look at II Sam 12:9, where the Lord sent Nathan unto David, to tell him, “thou has killed Uriah with the sword”. Actually, David told his military leaders to “set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, that he may be smitten and die.” Some enemy man actually killed Uriah with his sword, but the Lord said that David was guilty of the crime of murder. Likewise, some Indians may have killed the people in the Fancher Wagon Train, but the Mormons will be held responsible. Just last year, the First Presidency went to that area and stated that the Mormons were responsible for the unfortunate incident. It was reported in both the Church News and the Ensign. The Church Historian wrote an excellent article on it in the Ensign last year. I commend it to everyone.

  31. I view the Sabbath as a special day where I should make a conscious effort to do things differently, to keep it from seeming like any other day.  I also (when possible) avoid doing things which might require people to work on their Sabbath.  It’s not always possible to avoid, but 99% of the time it is.  Poor planning is putting your ox in the mire.

    Someone above mentioned they didn’t understand why using vending machines might be considered breaking the Sabbath.  Given the choice with my ox in the mire, I would definitely prefer to use a machine than interrupt someones Sabbath.  However, the problem is these machines track usage and the operators react to the usage patterns.  If everyone always buys gas (pay at the pump) on Sunday, the fuel tank for the service station may need to be refilled on Sunday.  This has the side effect of causing the fuel transport to work on Sunday, the station management to be present to allow fueling, etc.

    Same with soda/candy machines.  If the machine sells out on Sunday, the vending company is going to send someone out to refill it.

    In summary, use good judgement and planning and you will avoid all financial transactions and activities that you do the rest of the week on the Sabbath.

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