Off center

18 October 2009
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 24B (RCL)

Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Psalm 104:1-9, 25
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

The final chapters of Job are among my favorite passages in sacred scriptures. Job has been requesting an audience with God, and he gets one. God shows up! And Job isn’t fried to a crisp by it. And God shows up in the same way as to Moses and Elijah. The story that sets up the poetry section of Job is written like a joke. “There was this guy. . .” Job had 7000 sheep, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 she-asse and 3000 camels! Yeah, right! The point of the story is along the lines of, “You think you’ve got it bad?! There was this guy named Job.” Of course the Deuteronistic school had said that the cause of calamity was God punishing us for sin. Leviticus had suggested that we might sin without being aware. Since you couldn’t turn to sacrifice for augury, to figure out who was at fault, well, it must be you, even if you don’t know it.

The joke/story accepts the Deuteronomistic theory and then pushes it to its absurd limit. God lets Satan punish Job just for the hell of it. The three friend then take up the Deuteronistic argument in spades. Just admit you’ve done something wrong, even if you don’t know what it is, and God will forgive you. Job insists on his righteousness. When he finally gets his audience with God, God never says, “You know, Job, you did mess up.” God just points out the wonders of creation, and asks Job if he can explain them. Whenever I’m complaining about how badly I’ve got it, it’s good to remember that Behemoth and Leviathan are part of God’s creation, despite their apparently evil nature, that the sun will come up tomorrow, whether I welcome it or not, and that the universe goes along with or without me. God does scold the three friends. They were absolutely wrong to say that Job must have sinned. The book of Job argues very strongly against the Deuteronomistic solution to the problem of evil.

In Mark’s Gospel, James and John ask Jesus to be granted to sit at his right and left. The word they use for left is “aristeron“, which like the latin “sinister” has connotations of “ill-omened.” When Jesus replies that it is not for him to grant to sit at his right and left, he uses “evonumon“, a euphemism for “left” which means, literally, “good-named” or “good-omened.” It’s interesting that he switches words. The euphemism for “left” shows up exactly one other time in Mark’s Gospel, in the description of the thieves crucified at Jesus’ right and “good-omened” left. James and John really didn’t know what they were asking! It had been prepared for the thieves to sit with Jesus in glory!

Both passages suggest to me that we need to get ourselves out of the center of the picture, and see how it all connects back to God. The passage from Hebrews suggests that it is exactly Jesus’ sumission that puts him in the presence of God, where he can make intercessions on our behalf. How do we come into the presence of God, and on whose behalf?

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