Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Scott Borden, OHC
Proper 24 B - Sunday, October 17, 2021
Carl Jung called Job the most important book in the Bible. It's certainly one of the most disturbing, and the competition in that category is stiff. The Book of Job has been described as the book you need when your life experience outgrows your understanding of God.
Throughout Hebrew scripture God’s actions are often quite shocking. The destruction of almost all life on the planet in the story of Noah comes to mind. God is not at all shy about ethnic cleansing, incest, patricide, matricide, fratricide, infanticide, genocide... And for those who were interested in defending Biblical Marriage, well – read the bible... Incest, rape, lots of prostitutes... it is not a tidy world.
One standard remains true through that bloody mess: God’s chosen people are protected. Among the Chosen People, good people get rewarded and bad people get punished. And one of the ways you could tell you were a bad person is because you were being punished.
Enter Job. Scripture is at pains to tell us Job is a good person – maybe the best person. We can tell because he is blessed. His children are blessed. His children’s children are blessed.
Then, if you recall, God gets into a what seems like a silly bet with the devil. Satan bets he can get Job to reject God. God takes that bet and the devil sets about to prove God wrong and win the bet at the expense of Job.
In rapid succession Job’s family is destroyed, his wealth is destroyed, everything he cares about is taken from him and, to add insult to injury, he is afflicted with horrible skin conditions that make him an outcast. He started at the top of the world and within a few short paragraphs, he is sitting in the ash heap of his ruined life.
Job’s friends have come to console him, in a way. They are on the face of it well intentioned, sympathetic, caring... Job’s neighbor Elihu gives a lengthy discourse on what God does and why... It sounds very good. Job’s sin must be great because his punishment is so great. The only problem is that this friend is entirely wrong. Job has not sinned. Through this entire ordeal Job has never doubted God.
Now God enters the picture... this is where this morning’s reading picks up. God asks a question: “Who is this that darkens council by words without wisdom?” Well, that would be Job’s well-intentioned friend Elihu who has been holding forth for the past few chapters...
God knows that Job is not being punished. The “wisdom” that Job’s friends offer is, in fact, made up entirely of words without wisdom. The reading continues with a series of rapid-fire rhetorical questions: Where were you when the foundations of the earth were laid? Can you make it rain when drought has turned everything into dust? Can you hunt in place of the lions, or for the birds? It seems that God is reminding the friends of Job, and by extension us, that we are limited, clumsy creatures, not nearly so capable as many of God’s other creatures. God stops short of saying shut up and go away, but that’s sort of in the subtext.
It’s not that the friends of Job didn’t have important work to do. That work would have been consoling Job. Job’s life, after all, has been destroyed. But they don’t choose to console. Rather they choose to analyze and assign blame. In their ignorance they make a bad situation worse.
In this dialogue with God Job says: “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things to wonderful for me to know.” To the unhelpful neighbors God replies: “I am angry with you because you have not spoken the truth about me as my servant Job has.”
Of course, we don’t have to go back to the time of Job to observe this dark counsel. We just have to go back to the most recent natural disaster or mass shooting to hear voices offering words without wisdom. Political discourse should get its own category for extreme words without wisdom...
The Book of Job is the book that teaches us that not every bad thing is a punishment from God. In fact, none of the bad things in Job’s life are punishments from God. If this is part of how we understand God, then we need a new understanding. We need council enlightened by wisdom, not darkened by ignorance.
Let's move on to Mark. Here we find James and John, the scrappy sons of Zebedee, wanting to be rewarded. “We want you to do for us whatever we ask...” Now there is a broad request. Perhaps they want to win the lottery... or live in luxury... But no, James and John just want to be Jesus’ number one and number two guys... That’s not too much to ask...
Their words, it seems, have been darkened by council without wisdom. They don’t know what they are asking. And Jesus tries to let them down gently. Can you be baptized as I will be baptized? Can you drink the cup that I drink? We know that the cross is close on the horizon for Jesus and that cup is filled with Jesus’ own blood... But James and John are don’t seem to know this. What these two lack in wisdom they make up in confidence...
The rest of the disciples are outraged. But Jesus responds, as he often seems to do, with a bit of a non-sequitur. Jesus offers a discussion of the role and responsibility of leadership. It is the council of wisdom.
In the Gentile world, leaders demand great deference. They want to rule over the little people. This, buy the way, should sound familiar... welcome to our world.
Jesus is revising the way of the world. Job is the book we need when experience requires a new concept of God. Jesus is telling the disciples, and us, that a new concept God will require a new concept of leadership.
In God’s Kingdom rulers are servants. Jesus is here to serve, not to be served. If we want to follow Jesus, this is what we must do. We must be prepared to give up our lives. The good news for James and John is that they are getting what they asked for. The bad news is that they are getting what they asked for...
In a COVID wearied world I wonder what these stories may be telling us.
Our journey through COVID tells us how much like the friends of Job we are. We want to respond to tragedy and destruction with judgment. Various government leaders were quick to assure us that COVID came from a failure (or a deliberate plot) in someone else’s laboratory.
Somehow Bill Gates and George Soros were involved... And various would-be prophets proclaimed that COVID was God’s punishment on us for something wicked – probably something involving the LGBTQ+ community. How susceptible we still are to council darkened by words without wisdom.
But if COVID teaches us anything, it's that our lives are ever more intertwined, interdependent. You can’t flip on a light switch here without activating a supply chain that wraps around the world. Yet we tell ourselves that independence is more important than anything and that we must maintain it at all cost. This is an illusion, and it is a lie.
Our God concept and our societal concept have been left in the dust by our ever-changing world. The book we need is Job – and the sooner the better.
Job teaches us is that we must be ready and willing to allow our relationship with God to grow. God is present with us now and, disinformation notwithstanding, we can hear God speak as Job heard God speak out of the whirlwind.
God’s message – love. Nothing more and nothing less. Love God, love neighbor, and love self. These three things are in fact one and the same. We just need to break with Job’s friends and neighbors. We need to learn from James and John.
Jesus’ message to us was, and is, and always will be that we must grow in the way of love.