14 October 2012
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 23B (RCL)
Job 23:1-9, 16-17
The passage from Job assigned for this week occurs near the middle of the book. All three of Job’s friends have spoken, and said essentially the same thing — they assume Job has sinned that he is suffering so much, and accuse him of either forgetting the sin or covering it up. They urge him to acknowledge his sinfulness, which comes just with being human, and ask for God’s good favor. Job insists on his own righteousness, and then admits that he cannot find God. All of us have been in Job’s shoes here (if I turn to the left, I do not see God, to the right and God is not there). Of course, his anguish is compounded by his friends, who will not accept his plea of righteousness. At the end of the book, Job demands an audience with God . . . and gets it. God does not accuse Job of any sin, but of thinking this has anything to do with him. Showing him the grandeur of creation, God invites Job to step back and see the bigger picture. God, however, does have a few choice words for the friends. They have failed Job, and God requires them to seek Job’s forgiveness. Job’s failure to find God in the midst of his troubles may indeed have as much to do with the friends as with God’s absence.
Psalm 22 speaks of Israel’s sense of abandonment by God, and of course, the Gospel writers use the first line on Jesus’ lips in the passion. This is the price of maintaining monotheism. If bad stuff happens, and if God is on control, then God must be causing (or at least allowing) the bad stuff. Christian theologians would solve the problem by insisting that God created the universe with freedom (or created it out of love, not necessity, which is the same thing as freedom). Christ is the evidence of the suffering of the second person of the Trinity in human anguish. Hebrews says we have a great high priest who has been through what we have been through, and therefore takes our suffering into the Deity.
Then, we come to the Gospel. What to do about wealth. The clue to understanding this passage comes at the end. Jesus says, whoever has left house and family will receive a hundredfold again, in this world — with persecutions. We expect to hear that we will receive a hundredfold in the kingdom, not in this world, and then are surprised about the persecutions. In the kingdom, we will receive eternal life. If the community of the Church is a newly constituted kinship, we receive mothers and brothers and sisters and children aplenty in the church, but with persecutions. We become sharers not only in their joys, but in their sufferings, and in Mark’s day that likely included persecutions. Paul tells us we share in the persecutions of those persecuted. So, we become the opposite of Job’s friends, co-sufferers, rather than judges.
When Jesus looks at the rich young man, he loves him. He wants the best for him, and he perceives that his wealth is standing in the way of his taking an active role in the suffering of the poor. Many treat this as a good text for a stewardship sermon, but it’s not very good after all. Jesus doesn’t say, sell all you have and give to the church, but give it to the poor. He wants the rich young man to enter solidarity with the poor, to share in their sufferings. Our wealth often stands in the way of our willingness to do that. It insulates us from the rest of the world. So we need to get it out of the way.