Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Proper 25 B - Oct 25, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Sr. Shane Phelan, CMA
Proper 25 B - Sunday, October 25, 2015

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Hebrews 7:23-28 Mark 10:46-52

Today’s readings seem so reassuring.  They offer us the promise that we long for.  God rewards Job for his righteousness.  Jesus heals Bartimaeus, who then follows him on the way.  What good news!  God is faithful and powerful.  Happy days are here again!

Our passage from Job comes at the very end of the book.  Commentators agree that the beginning and the end of the book were written separately from the long contest that occupies most of the book.  In the beginning, God bets Satan that Job will be faithful no matter what.  He lets Satan take everything from Job: his children die, his livestock dies, he contracts painful diseases.  He is bereft.

Job’s friends come by to “comfort” him, to be “helpful” by telling him what to do.  They insist that he must have sinned, and that if he confesses he will be restored.  Job stands in the truth that he has done nothing to deserve what has happened.  He will not curse God, but he will also not pretend a repentance he does not feel.  God eventually overwhelms him, reminding him who is God and who is dust, but the issue of justice is not resolved.  God never answers Job’s challenge.

Clearly, someone could not stand this dangling ending.  So we get the final chapter, where Job’s fortunes are restored.  Ironically, the author apparently agrees with Job’s friends about what God is like.  He wants us to forget the mysterious, awful, even capricious nature of God in favor of a Disney God.  

That Disney God is always around to tempt us.  When we focus on Jesus’ healing and teaching and forget the cross, we’re in Disneyland.  When we celebrate the messiah and reject the despised and rejected one, we’re in Disneyland.

But I’m not in Disneyland.  I’m in a haunted house, surrounded by ghosts.  Job’s sons and daughters crowd in around me.  With them are all the victims of trauma, all those who can’t forget or be forgotten.  What sort of restoration, what sort of healing, follows from trauma like Job’s?

On the way to raising four children, my mother had five miscarriages.  We carry a genetic defect that causes this.  My sister has two living children, but she has never forgotten Benjamin, who she lost at five months.  Her daughter has not had children yet, but she has lost one.  And I, when I was young, miscarried the only child I was to carry.  For years after that I would imagine my daughter.  I would count the years and think, “she would be in high school now.”  Then college, then law school.  (I don’t know why law school, it just showed up.)  Finally I stopped counting.  I eventually had a liturgy to put her to rest, the child I never knew.

Do you think Job was restored as good as new?
Do you think his wife recovered, having ten more children?
Do you think that Holocaust survivors got over it, that veterans get over it if they come back and find good jobs?

Are you over it?

29 months after Hurricane Katrina, Deacon Julius Lee stood in his yard in New Orleans and said  “The storm is gone, but the “after the storm” is always here.”  Already residents were feeling pressured to move on, to get over it, to show the world that things were normal.  But trauma does not just move on.  Trauma lives on.

In her book, Spirit and Trauma, Shelly Rambo listens to trauma in Scripture and in theology.  Following the growing field of trauma studies, she looks at the ways that trauma lingers and asks how that might shape our understanding of Christian life.  She suggests, I think rightly, that our resurrection story can too often become like Job’s happy ending, suppressing the memory of trauma that the disciples would have experienced. 

Resurrection can’t just meaning getting over the cross.  The cross haunts the Christian imagination, as it must have haunted the disciples even after seeing the risen Christ.  And Bartimaeus’ healing would not mean that his years of suffering were erased.  We do not simply get over our histories.  Bartimaeus has built a whole world around the loss of his sight.  He has spent years shunned or ignored; in fact he is told by the crowd to be quiet even when Jesus appears.  He has strength of will and desire, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t scarred.

So what is his life like on the road, in the wake of his healing?  I imagine he might be a bit suspicious of those who suddenly warm up to him.  Like the friends who return to Job, these new friends might have some work to do to prove their friendship.  And in the midst of their shared excitement and joy on the road, Bartimaeus will have fears and anxieties that the others will not share.  He has knowledge of the world in a way that those who have always seen do not.  Like Jesus, he has scars to mark his trauma.  They just aren’t always visible.

So the happy ending may not be the faithful ending.  It’s not faithful to the reality of human life, or of the ways we encounter God.
Where is God when children are gunned down at school, or die of drug overdoses?  
Where is God when some have no food or shelter, and others walk by them on their way to their BMWs?  
Where is the resurrection in our inner cities?  

Rather than a story of triumph, perhaps the story we need is a story of remaining, of enduring and sustaining.
We are in the hands of a God who is beyond our understanding.  

Job’s story reminds us that creeds and doctrines are not the heart of our faith.  At the heart of our faith is an experience, an encounter with God in Christ.  This encounter can be exhilarating, but it can also be terrifying.  
And, like any true encounter, it is transforming.  The real presence of God exceeds our Disney imagination, even the imagination of our worst fears.  

God is beyond comprehension, but not beyond relationship.

Job’s strength lies in his authenticity.  He does not pretend or try to “be good.”  He does not mouth pieties in order to placate God.  What, after all, can happen to him now?  Job is out on the vast sea of God, beyond nice phrases, and he has nothing but his fidelity.  
But out there, with nothing in the way, he can find God’s presence.  He remains, he endures, and he is transformed.

We owe it to ourselves, to one another, to our children to speak the truth about God. God stands with us in suffering and injustice, but not as one who would magically erase the effects of sin.  God endures with us, and promises to abide with us if we abide with Her. Better than a fairy tale, this opens us to real healing, real insight, real discipleship.  

May we never settle for easy answers, but demand mercy and healing.  
And may God grant us more than we can ask or imagine.

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