Wednesday, September 22, 2021

October 3, 2021 - 19th Sunday after Pentecost

                            Biblical Words                                [736]

 Job 1:1; 2:1-10;  Psalm 26;  Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12Mark 10:2-16

A righteous person may suffer, but some hear that the Son of God cares for the children.

Job 1:1; 2:1-10. 

The readings from the Hebrew scriptures return to the “wisdom” literature.  We now follow the wisdom tradition along one of its more radical and difficult side paths, the scroll of Job.  (For the first two millennia of its existence, this writing was a scroll, not a "book.")  

In the time of Ezekiel (around 600 BCE), Job was known to educated Judeans as a figure of the ancient past, famous for his righteousness, along with Noah and Daniel (Ezekiel 14:14 and 20).  These three men were non-Israelite figures who were models of faithfulness to God in extremely trying times. 

The scroll of Job is complex in structure as well as in religious thought. 

There is an outer framework (Prologue and Epilogue) written in prose.  The Prologue (chapters 1-2) presents the utterly patient Job who loses all his worldly goods, children, and health but refuses to curse God.  The Epilogue (42:7-17) presents a happy, if somewhat dark, ending in which all Job’s losses are restored. 

The bulk of the scroll, in between, is in poetry, very sophisticated and artistic, in which different speakers argue various positions about Job’s situation and God’s righteousness and power.  In this section Job complains about God, asserts his own innocence, and yearns for a chance to make his case before God.  (This is “the angry Job.”) 

There is a fundamental difference in perspective between the prose framework and the poetic debate.  The prose story (chapters 1-2) shows things on both the heavenly and earthly levels. The heavenly drama lets us know what is really causing all of Job’s suffering (God letting “the Satan” torture him).  By contrast, the speakers in the poetic materials (chapters 3-27) know only the confusion and conventional wisdom of earthly human experience. 

Our Reading (2:1-10) is the second heavenly scene of the Prologue.  

God brags about his faithful servant Job to the Prosecutor (“the sātān” in Hebrew), whose job it is to search the earth for wicked people who need punishing.  The Prosecutor replies that Job is faithful only out of self-interest.  God had already given the Prosecutor a free hand to test Job, first by destroying Job’s world, and now by torturing Job’s body – short of death.  Job’s wife ridicules his “integrity” and suggests he curse God and die.  Cursing the source and sustainer of life is equivalent to pulling the plug and ending one’s misery. 

The key to the selected reading is Job’s reply to his wife:  “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”  This echoes Job’s earlier response to the loss of all his property and his children:  “Naked came I from my mother’s womb [the earth], and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21, NRSV).  

The challenge to us of this “patient Job” is, Where is the anger?  Where is the indignation at this gross and absurd injustice?  Such indignation may lead on, of course, to the self-centered, “Why ME, O Lord?”  This voice will be heard from Job, but only in the poetic debates in chapters 3-27, from which next week’s reading is taken. 

There is a somewhat unconventional treatment of the Job scroll in my Study Bibles blog (Study Bibles blog – “The Job Project.”)  

Psalm 26. 

It is not difficult to find a Psalm reading that complements Job’s situation.  There are many psalms that cry out in the voice of the suffering innocent, and Psalm 26 is one of the most straightforward of them. 

This psalm cries out for God to examine rigorously the speaker’s person and life, for God to “judge” (NRSV “vindicate”), to “try,” and to “test” the speaker.  The speaker wants his or her day in court, confident that if the truth can be revealed, his or her “integrity” will be demonstrated and upheld.  (The “integrity” of NRSV verses 1 and 11 is the same Hebrew root as in the Job Prologue.) 

The psalm reflects the fact that in much of ancient justice the great problem was to get a hearing.  One could be perfectly honest and proper in one’s conduct but through error or malice be blamed for some disaster.  The only recourse was to plead for a hearing in the court of a judge who is sure to hear and recognize the truth.  Without such a hearing, the wrong continues and the world thinks you are a sinner and deserve your trouble. 

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12.  

The Epistle reading starts a new book, which we will be reading for the next seven weeks. 

This composition called “To the Hebrews” was written around 75 to 100 CE, and was being read by folks in Rome by the latter date.  It was NOT written to “Hebrews,” that is Judeans.  It was written to people who have been Christians for a while but are now under some pressures, externally, and perhaps internally as well.

Later Christians (Clement and Origin of Alexandria, around 200 CE) knew that this work was too different from Paul’s main letters to have come from him.  However, this was a case where the work was too good to let quibbles about apostolicity keep it from the Christian scriptures.  In time, the church decided that Paul must have written it so it could be kept in the New Testament.  It has been esteemed, especially by theologians, as one of the great writings of Christian history. 

Hebrews is not really a letter, though the last chapter has some of the usual endings of a letter.  It is a sermonic discourse, suitable for study, pondering, and discussion.  It was not for beginning Christians, but for advanced study.  (“Therefore let us go on toward perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation...”, 6:1, NRSV.)  It unfolds more aspects of the revelation and work of the Christ than the hearers or readers may have recognized before. 

The main way that the meaning of the Christ is unpacked and developed is by studying the Torah, Prophets, and Psalms of the Judean scriptures (in their Greek translations).  Thus, Hebrews is continually laying out the previously hidden meaning of the past scriptures, as such meanings can now be seen because of the coming of the Son of God. 

The opening paragraph (included in our reading) is as loaded with vast theological claims – and intimations of future doctrines of Christianity – as the opening of the Gospel According to John.  It is a succinct summary of what the writer can assume the hearers are familiar with and of what will be restated and elaborated in this writing, 

For the rest, this writer and these hearers are located firmly in the second generation of Christians:  The message of salvation “was declared at first through the Lord [Jesus], and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God added his testimony by signs and wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit…” (2:3-4). 

The selected reading concludes with a main emphasis of the work, that the saving work of Jesus led him into suffering.  While Jesus the Son of God is now crowned with glory (as attested in Psalm 8, quoted in verses 6-8), a glory that he has opened for all who belong to him, it is a glory achieved only after suffering, even suffering to death. 

This, the writer declares, was entirely appropriate:  “It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (2:10). 

What was the Job problem in the Judean scriptures – why does the righteous Job suffer? – becomes the Atonement problem in Christian doctrines – why did Jesus have to die to get forgiveness of sins for believers? 

Much of the rest of Hebrews speaks to this mystery. 

Mark 10:2-16. 

The Gospel reading relates incidents during Jesus’ journey toward suffering in Jerusalem.  The passage does not discuss suffering or its theological meaning directly.  Rather, it focuses on family matters – divorce, children, and (later in the chapter) wealth. 

The Pharisees come to test Jesus on the matter of divorce.  Besides being a controversial issue between Rabbinic schools, divorce was a hot topic politically.  John the Baptist had condemned Herod Antipas’ divorce and remarriage and had lost his head as a result (Mark 6:17-29). 

The Torah seems to have two different pronouncements on the matter:  Genesis 2:24 says a man and a woman become one flesh, and, Jesus will say, they were meant to stay that way.  On the other hand, Deuteronomy 24:1-4 is the explicit Judean law on divorce, allowing a man to divorce a wife but requiring him to give her a written document, after which she can marry again.  (Bear in mind that this was a society in which a wealthy man could have multiple wives.  Polygamy was open to those who could afford it.)     

The issue in the Gospel passage is the relation between (1) God’s original creative intention and (2) accommodations to human frailty and error.  Jesus takes the side of God’s original intention, and the Pharisees probably intended to expose his stricter practice and its over-riding of the Mosaic law. 

Mark presents Jesus’ final pronouncements as delivered to the disciples in a private session indoors.  For Christian practice, re-marriage after a divorce is a violation of the commandment against adultery (10:10-12).  When Matthew repeated this Markan passage, the prohibition was qualified by adding the phrase, “except for unchastity,” allowing divorce from a person convicted of adultery (Matthew 19:9).  (The communities reflected in Matthew’s Gospel had found the need for qualifications, for loop-holes.)   

Paul’s view of divorce apparently followed Jesus’:  He reports to the Corinthian Christians that “the Lord” commanded that there be no re-marriage after divorce (I Corinthians 7:10-11). 

This Gospel passage shows Jesus as the new law-giver, or at least authoritative law-interpreter.  Alongside Jesus’ earlier radical revising of the Jewish food laws (Mark 7:1-23), this pronouncement on marriage is another step toward shaping a new way of life that will separate Jesus’ followers from Pharisaic (Rabbinic) Judaism. 

We have to think that Jesus’ words apply to a pristine community, expected to thrive in the newness of God’s reign.  However, in more troubled, complex, and sociologically studied (modern) times, divorce may be the more compassionate and gracious course required within a caring community. 

One likes to think that the passage about the children (10:13-16) is placed immediately after the passage forbidding divorce because of care about the children and their need for parenting.  This passage has no other point than to lift up the dependence, innocence, and perhaps the childlike joy and play of these kids as having highest priority in God’s Reign.  The disciples are warned to not let their officiousness deter these little ones, for they (the kids) are the model and constant reminder of the attitude and mood in which the Reign of God should be received.  A new life for parents – making possible a better marriage as well as better parenting – is part of that Reign. 

Jesus hugs these kids, who depend on the big people in their lives, and gives them his blessing! 

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