Proper 25B: See Life Begin Again

Mist and LightOLD TESTAMENT: Job 42: 1-6, 10-17

Read from the Book of Job

We come to the end of the Book of Job. Job has suffered. He has lost everything. He has questioned God and expected God to give him reasons for why all these horrible things have happened to him. But the actions of God are not centered in conventional responses to wickedness and righteousness. The universe is, instead, filled to the brim with mystery and surprise and wonder. God’s answer to Job is: “Think again, Job. Open your eyes wider to the whole of the cosmos. Redirect your attentions away from what you have done to what I am doing.” This is the turning point—Job now has received a new vision of God as YHWH, creator and sustainer as well as struggler with a complex and mysterious order. It is that new vision of YHWH to which Job responds here.

Walter Brueggemann has said that he sees Job “as a recognition of a world that is falling apart and in which the pain of such displacement is acute.” Yet the pain eventually leads to “an incredible leap beyond Israel’s known world.” (42:5) Job inhabited a rather myopic world of retribution and distributive justice, where people get what they deserve, where there is a just God to see that all get what they deserve. But then Job is invited out to a new world, a world not based upon simple, distributive justice. And Job sees now that he is not the center of the world—that his relationship with God is found in his interconnectedness to all of the cosmos—that he is but a part of the wisdom of God.

No one could tell me where my soul might be; I sought for God, but God eluded me. I sought my brother out and found all three—my soul, my God, and all humanity. (From Sometimes I Hurt: Reflections on The Book of Job, Mildred Tengbom, 200) Some would like the drama to end here. After all, hasn’t Job gotten the point? But if Job has become new, we must see him act out of his newness to discover if that newness is genuine. We need to see Job back in the world again.

And so the Lord restores Job’s life. Some of us struggle with this. It gives it a sense of some sort of fairy tale ending and we all know that that type of ending is seldom realistic. But think about it in the context of the larger vision to which Job and we as readers have been invited. God does not just put Job back together again. It is better. If we read it literally, it is better because Job is given more. But, again, step back and look at the larger picture. Perhaps it is a metaphor of what is to come. It says that Job’s days were blessed but it doesn’t say that others were not. Perhaps it is a vision of what the world can be when we allow ourselves to look at it through the lenses of God. It is a world of plenty in which all of Creation prospers. It is a world where we recognize family and our interconnectedness. It is a world where all receive the inheritance of the world. It is a world where we all die, old and full of days of a life to come. “And they all lived happily ever after…”

God has allowed Job to be the hero. God lets us struggle and win and when we lose our life, God gives it back to us. The point is that Job actually encountered God and his life changed. Catherine Marshall once said that “Those who have never rebelled against God or at some point in their lives shaken their fists in the face of heaven, have never encountered God at all.”

God remains Job’s God. There can no longer be any talk of “reward” here—we have dispensed with that way of thinking. God has blessed Job because God loves and wants to bless Job. There is no other reason. It is not for us to ask why. Restoration is a feature of life; restoration is what God can do and does. At the end, I don’t get answers. I get a deepened relationship with God. God doesn’t come with easy answers; God comes offering presence. THAT is the Wisdom of God.

The story of Job is the story of life—our story. It does not travel in a straight, easy-to-follow line. It is not level or soft or easy. It means much, much more than that. If someone tries to present it in some other way, they just don’t get it. Sometimes life is chaotic; sometimes it’s just hard; and sometimes, through no fault of our own, it’s downright unbearable. Answers are not what we need. That’s why I like Job. It DOESN’T give you answers; it teaches you how to journey through life. So, here are my top ten lessons from Job:

 

  1. Life happens ( but we are never alone).
  2. Some things just don’t make sense. (Perhaps we are reading them through a clouded lens, or even too MUCH correction—try wearing your contacts AND your glasses)
  3. We need to make sure that our images of God do not stand in the way of God’s presence in our lives or in the lives of those around us.
  4. God desires to be in relationship with us more than God desires for us to figure God out.
  5. Sometimes we need to just shut up and listen.
  6. Sometimes we need to just give up and let it be.
  7. Everything come from God.  God breathed life and it was so.
  8. The future is an enigma.  Our road is covered in mist.  There will be times when the journey seems perilous and filled with despair.  But when we fling ourselves into what seems an impossible abyss, it is then that we will finally meet God.
  9. God is God.  We are not.
  10. And then we will die old and full of days, and realize that life has only just begun.
  •  
  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does this say about God?
  3. Where do you find yourself in this story?
  4. What stands in the way of our seeing what Job finally saw?

 

NEW TESTAMENT: Hebrews 7: 23-28

Read from The Letter to the Hebrews

The central statement for this passage is the implication that Christ’s priesthood, as compared to the traditional Levitical priesthood, is permanent. For this reason, we can rely on it to be with us as we face life. Some of the statements could be construed as almost anti-Semitic, because the author almost seems to be presenting the new covenant as a replacement of the old. But you have to understand that when this was written, there was a sort of resurgence of the old Judaism and the author would have felt the need to counter some of their claims.

The author speaks of Christ’s priesthood as a different order—a permanent order that, unlike the Levites, did not have to continually purify itself over and over again. But for us, the concept of Christ as a permanent part of our lives, one who keeps speaking on our behalf, one is engaged with humanity and not just exercising authority over us. The main contrast focuses on the sacrifice that Christ enacted in relation to permanence and impermanence. Christ’s sacrifice is for all time, whereas the Levitical priests have to sacrifice over and over again in obedience to God, will die and must be replaced. But Christ offers forgiveness and the offering itself is permanent.

The point is that the world is God’s. The world is called to reflect the vision that God has for it. And yet, the world does not yet reflect that image. There is almost an underlying theme in Hebrews of wandering, of us as a wandering people. But God through Christ offers permanence, offers home. God has promised us faithfulness. That, too, echoes throughout Hebrews. The promise of Sabbath rest has not yet been completely fulfilled. And, yet, even we wanderers are part of it. We are pilgrims who have not yet arrived at home. But home is always there.

  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does the idea of Jesus being engaged with humanity mean for you?
  3. What does this idea of Christ’s permanent priesthood mean for us?
  4. What stands in the way of us entering that permanence?
  5. What does the image of wandering and pilgrimage mean for you?

GOSPEL: Mark 10: 46-52

Read the Gospel Passage

First, we need to remember that blindness was much more prevalent in the world in which this passage was written than even today.  Much of it was caused by a sort of parasitic virus that could be easily spread (almost like pink-eye can be today.)  There was a strong belief among Judaism of that day that when the Messiah came, blindness would be cured.

In the passage for this week, the story of blind Bartimaeus is immediately preceded by the story of James and John who asked Jesus to chose the two of them to be seated at his right hand and left hand in glory. Jesus asked both James and John the IDENTICAL question he asked blind Bartimaeus: “What do you want me to do for you?” James and John were spiritually blind; and when their story was over, they were still spiritually blind. Bartemaeus was physically blind; but when his story was over, Bartimaeus could see.

You have to admire Bartimaeus.  He found out that Jesus was approaching and without any hesitation whatsoever, pled for mercy.  Well, of course, people dismissed him, wanting him to shut up.  So he got louder.  I admire his persistence.  Can you imagine what must have gone through his mind when Jesus called him forth?  And with vigor, he threw his cloak down.  Other translations use the world “mantle” (implying something more authoritative, more having to do with identity, that a mere “cloak”).  His answer to Jesus’ question was that he wanted to see AND he believed that Jesus could and would do it.  His faith made him well.

It’s a good metaphor for faith.  The story of faith begins in darkness and ends in light.  The name Bartimaeus means “son of honor”.  He was eager, he was needy, he was a little impetuous, he was hopeful, he was expectant…all those things that faith is.  He is willing to beg, to shout, to shout louder, to strip, to do whatever it takes to encounter Christ.  It’s a good lesson to us Christians who tend to act properly.  Bartimaeus was saying to Jesus, “Give me whatever it takes for me to see the way to follow you.”

And there is another level of this story.  This story ends a section of Jesus’ life in the Scriptures.  The first section could be named “Galilee”; the second “The Journey to Jerusalem”.  This story is the last story in Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem.  Jesus is now ready to enter the last chapter:  “Jerusalem”.  He now will enter the town and face what is to come.  It sheds a whole new light on truly “seeing”.

Another aspect of this story is a metaphorical one.  We can take it literally and assume that Bartimaeus could not physically see.  But maybe it’s meant to be taken metaphorically.  What if Bartimaeus’ faith enabled him to see what Jesus was showing him, to follow Jesus on The Way, whether or not this involves physical healing? What if it is more a story of someone who, as opposed to Job having to have everything important to him taken away in order to see differently, openly and willingly shed his very identity, that which was of some significance to him in order to bare himself for Jesus to give him new vision?

 

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does this say about faith?
  3. What stands in our way of having this kind of faith?
  4. How would you answer Jesus question: “What do you want me to do for you?”

 

 

Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Faith transforms the earth into a paradise.  By it our hearts are raised with the joy of our nearness to heaven.  Every moment reveals God to us.  Faith is our light in this life. (Jean Pierre de Caussade)

When you have come to the edge of all light that you know and are about to drop off into the darkness of the unknown, Faith is knowing one of two things will happen:  There will be something solid to stand on or you will be taught how to fly. (Patrick Overton)

Fidelity is the fine art of remaining faithful to a vision that must come but is, for whatever reason, delayed. (Joan Chittister, Becoming Fully Human, 90)

 

Closing

Healer of every ill, light of each tomorrow, give us peace beyond our fear, and hope beyond our sorrow.

 

You who know our fears and sadness, grace us with your peace and gladness; Spirit of all comfort, fill our hearts.

 

In the pain and joy beholding how your grace is still unfolding, give us all your vision, God of love.

 

You who know each thought and feeling, teach us all your way of healing; Spirit of compassion, fill each heart.   Amen

Marty Haugen, “Healer of Every Ill”, The Faith We Sing, # 2213

 

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