4 October 2009
Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 22B (RCL)
Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Job has long been one of my favorite books in the Bible, but I must acknowledge, more for God’s response to Job than for the little wisdom tale that sets up the speeches, and which ends the book with Job restored to health and prosperity. Whenever I get frustrated, it’s good to be reminded that my problems aren’t at the center of the universe, and that the sun will rise tomorrow without my help.
But . . . Sometimes, I forget. When someone in the congregation gets ill, even when it’s serious, I’m usually pretty even-keeled. Especially if I can make sense of the medical reasons. My scientific mind is comforted by being able to categorize the illness: cancer, flu, COPD — whatever. We know the mechanisms and sometimes even the causes. However, every now and then, someone gets sick for no apparent reason. The doctors have no idea why, or even the mechanisms. Then, I can’t slot the event into a nice category. Who do you get angry at? Well, the story of Job knows: Satan and through Satan, God. We don’t like that so much, so we flounder about a bit.
I think Job was written in response to Deuteronomy and Leviticus, which both removed the aspect of divination from religion, figuring out whose fault something was. They settled instead for blaming the victim. Leviticus speaks over and over again of breaking the laws of purity without being aware of it. How is one supposed to find out about that? Job sacrificed for his children just in case — but it wasn’t enough. So, Job insists on his innocence contra Leviticus, and God finally shows up and agrees with him. He is innocent, but who the hell does he think he is, telling God how the world ought to be. We all need that now and then.
Divorce: What would happen to a divorced woman in Mark’s time? If she was lucky, she would go back to her father’s house and slave there. Otherwise, prostitution, maybe? And her kids? Disinheritied. No wonder Jesus forbids divorce. And as if to make the point, he blesses the children, the urchins, the nobodies. They are potential, but not yet real, heirs of the communities property. If disinherited, the became real nobodies. Jesus is saying, this is not a discourse about power, about what the law allows, who can do what, but about protecting the community. If the child he set in the midst of his disciples as they argued about who was greatest is in fact God’s ambassodor, then if one won’t welcome such children, one won’t enter the kingdom.