Proper 24, Year B: Job 38:1-7 (34-41), Hebrews 5: 10-10, Mark 10:35-45
Track one lectionary preachers are continuing the story of Job this week, after being left last week with Job’s lament. Job has spent the last 37 chapters asking why, defending himself as his friends pose theology after theology all ending in what Job must have done wrong to deserve such punishment. Finally Job shouts out to God, really calling all of the suffering of humanity through the ages into one question – WHY. Why does God allow us to suffer?
The answer is that we don’t know, because when God answers Job God doesn’t say why, doesn’t explain. God calls into question what it is that Job actually thinks he knows of God and God’s ways instead, which isn’t an answer at all.
We can’t explain why to the person suffering from inoperable cancer in our congregation, to the parents grieving the sudden loss of a child, even to the person bereft over the loss of a pet. We don’t know why but we do know that the old platitudes about God wanting another angel or having some sort of plan not only ring hollow but inflict pain, much like Job’s friends positing that surely Job has done something to call this disaster down on his head.
We can wonder if the story of Job is an allegory, a way to explain the pain that humanity has always faced as we love deeply and lose in unimaginable ways. We can wonder if God is asking Job to consider that Job is not the center of all creation, if, in the not-answer God provides we can see a re-orienting of Job. We can recover verses 8-11, where God becomes almost feminine, birthing the sea and wrapping it in swaddling made of clouds, giving it boundaries for its own sake; God as midwife to something larger than us.
I think we can also safely say that Job didn’t give up on God. Job displays faithfulness just as Satan bargained he would not. Job keeps yelling into the silence, demanding that God speak, challenging God for justice. And God spoke back, God deigned to speak to humanity in a way that is similar to the way God spoke to humanity through the person of Jesus Christ. What good news is there here?
As I read the word from Hebrews I had this image of a sort of scarecrow in clerical garb. The figure’s black clothing was faded by the sun and ragged at the edges, it hung on the narrow frame that was mounted as a sign at a crossroads, one jagged hand pointing home.
The Hebrews reading draws heavily on the ritual life of the Jewish temple and delves into atonement theology. If you’re comfortable preaching on the different versions of atonement (and avoiding Job all together?) this may be the Sunday to do it. This may also be the Sunday to talk about what a clergy really is: which is the place that we stand in a circle of believers, a person set aside to lead and to teach, ordained for a function which is grounded in service and love.
In the Pastoral Essay of Feasting on the Word, Susan R. Andrews mentions how our own ordinations can look more like coronations when the ordination of Jesus looked more like “that muddy baptismal bath in the shallows of the River Jordan, presided over by a locust eating hippie.” Andrews has a point, we are all baptized into the same ministry. Jesus is the ideal high priest, the one who came to be the example for us of one who suffers WITH us, not FOR us, one who cannot rescue but who can strengthen, one who can model this cruciform life of discipleship better than any other called prophet, lay leader, king or priest in the history of the world. Jesus models for us all orders of ministry.
We may be all walking each other home, but someone has be to in charge, someone has to stand at the crossroads pointing the way. Bless you, clergy people.
Finally, James and John have just completely missed (or willfully ignored?) their teacher telling them for the third time that he will indeed suffer and die, and that it’s not a many years into the future so why worry about it now sort of death. Instead James and John want to sit at the right and left hand of Jesus, who knows he will be crucified between two criminals and says basically, you really don’t know what you’re talking about.
James and John can be posed against the story of the rich man who must give everything away to be saved from last week. The rich man, and James and John, (and us right?) just want to know what to do. But in wanting to observe the letter of the law they (we?) are missing the heart of the law, and so obeying the law only unto their (our) own ends, not because the law as represented in the person of Jesus Christ saves and redeems others.
From birth we are enmeshed in the systems that will try to define who we are and how we should be and what should be important to us. I think of that song, Little Boxes by Malvina Reynolds, where she spells out all the ways we turn out people who think and act, and are the same in a world where “other” is not admirable but actually reviled. Jesus calls us out of those systems with his final teaching on those who want to be first being last, this is a radical upending of our entire way of functioning as humanity.
The words and call of Jesus still stand: we are to eschew systems of power, wealth and status and to ask ourselves if we have been successful in our efforts to do that. We are to be grounded in love and service, and to keep asking God why, believing that God is still there even when an answer never comes.
Best of luck with the rich texts presented this week preachers. I know you will bring a good word to your people.
Alicia Hager resides in West Michigan and is a Postulant to the Sacred Order of Priests in the Episcopal Church. Alicia enjoys spending time with her daughters and her husband, is bonkers about her cats, and blogs at astrawberrypointe.wordpress.com.
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