Rev’d Jonathan Gale
Job 1: 1, 2: 1 – 10
Job and His Family
1There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.
Attack on Job’s Health
2 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 2 The Lord said to Satan, ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’ 3 The Lord said to Satan,* ‘Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.’ 4 Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.’ 6 The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.’
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, ‘Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.’ 10 But he said to her, ‘You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?’ In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Hebrews 1: 1 – 4, 2: 5 – 12
God Has Spoken by His Son
1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,* whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains* all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Exaltation through Abasement
5 Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. 6But someone has testified somewhere,
‘What are human beings that you are mindful of them,*
or mortals, that you care for them?*
7 You have made them for a little while lower* than the angels;
you have crowned them with glory and honour,*
8 subjecting all things under their feet.’
Now in subjecting all things to them, God* left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, 9but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower* than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God* he might taste death for everyone.10 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. 11For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father.* For this reason Jesus* is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters,* 12 saying, ‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,* in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.’
Mark 10: 2 – 16
2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ 3He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ 4They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ 5But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. 6But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” 7“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,* 8and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’
10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’
Jesus Blesses Little Children
13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
We have some pretty disparate readings set for today.
The Gospel leaves us with a homespun image of little children lifting their arms up to Jesus, who lifts them up and blesses them.
Far removed from the Book of Job…
1 There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. One day the heavenly beings* came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan* also came among them to present himself before the Lord. 2The Lord said to Satan,* ‘Where have you come from?’ Satan* answered the Lord, ‘From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.’
Isn’t that a fascinating beginning to a story! The style is like no other style in biblical literature. It’s more reminiscent of Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories than anything else in the Bible.
Kipling likes to refer to “the High and Far-Off Times” and this is just the sense that the beginning of the Book of Job conjures up. Long ago. Almost, but not quite; hidden in the mists of time.
And in these High and Far-Off Times we come across a world of cosmic events. God is inspecting the heavenly beings and Satan parades before him.
And God says something to this effect: “O, and where have you come from?” Satan is not going to say so he answers in general terms, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” He tells God nothing.
There is something of a conflict going on here up in heaven, but it’s very soon going to have earthly ramifications. The thinking of heaven plays itself out on earth. Within a few short verses poor Job, whom God describes in glowing terms, is inflicted by Satan* with “loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head.”
From sublimity to suffering.
There’s a dramatic irony here: those in heaven know what is going on. Those on earth don’t. They have to figure it out.
And Job spends the next 42 chapters doing just that. His subjugation, it seems, is just about complete.
How many of us feel that life is just like that? The fates conspire against me! I am a victim of my circumstances! Life is not fair! Etc
Now the beginning of the Letter to the Hebrews is just as lofty as the beginning of Job.
1Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son,* whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains* all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
There is the same sense
- of the ancient.
- of God’s latent power.
- of the mind of God at work.
- of angelic beings.
- of movement from the general to the particular.
But there is one significant difference: the thinking in heaven that plays itself out on earth does so in a surprising manner. The suffering that comes upon the earth is not directed at some fellow doing his best to lead a righteous life, but rather at God himself who has taken the initiative in an exercise of absorbing into himself the sum total of human suffering. God has faced, in Jesus, suffering and death, and he has become the pioneer of salvation and in the process has been made perfect through sufferings.
One of the subheadings in my bible for the Hebrews letter reads Exaltation through Abasement.
In both readings we see God speaking and his words set off a chain of events.
For Job it is a suffering he faces largely on his own. His so-called comforters offer little wisdom, let alone comfort. He is abused, humiliated and finally, after repenting, is restored to greater splendour than before.
For Jesus, this too is a suffering he faces almost alone. But with a significant difference. He is depicted as God’s eloquent declaration of love for humankind. The Good News Jesus brings is of a higher order than that delivered by the prophets. It is the Good News of God’s kingdom coming among humankind. But what makes this so astounding is that it is effected by Jesus’ death and suffering before he is restored, which happens after his resurrection, to his former glory.
Now that’s all very interesting but this cosmic act is not simply a story about the adventures of Jesus. It is a saving act that represents the call of God on all our lives.
Jesus’ act doesn’t simply restore himself. It rescues us in the process. The question we all need to answer is how do we respond, how do we get on board?
Jesus, as Hebrews says, has tasted death for everyone and has done what he has done in order to bring many children to glory.
Well the turning point in Job’s life gives us a clue. Understanding dawns upon Job – that is what his suffering has led to, and in Job 42: 5 – 6 we read,
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’
Job realises that his self-justification, for all its rationality, does not justify him before the perfect love that is God and he repents. Job turns himself over to God. It is then that he frees God to restore him and bless him abundantly.
That is what repentance is: turning ourselves over to God.
Our journey from abasement – and by abasement I mean the sum total of all that is imperfect in us, of all that is alienated and alienating – our journey from abasement to exaltation can only occur when we too acknowledge our total dependence upon God and the way to do that is, like Job, to turn ourselves over to God. It is then that we free God to restore us and bless us abundantly.
You know, whoever compiles the Lectionary has a sense of humour.
We have these two grand and cosmic stories about the meaning of suffering – of hope out of adversity – and how it is used by God to bring us salvation. Glorious stuff!
We then open the Gospel and we go straight into an account where poor Jesus is cornered by pesky and arrogant Pharisees who ask ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’
From the expansive to the narrow. From glory to fault-finding. Jesus seems to answer this (both to the Pharisees and his disciples who ask him the same question) in the briefest of possible ways. What our Gospel reading goes on to, and which brings a smile to his face, is the little children.
15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
The children do not earn their blessing. They are not in any sense deserving of a blessing. Those questions don’t enter their minds. They simply accept Jesus and all that he is, and lift their arms up to him.
There is no shyness. No self-doubt. When faced with the personification of love, they simply lift their arms expecting him to lift them up.
I said earlier that “the thinking in heaven plays itself out on earth”. Jesus is that which plays itself out on earth. He is heaven’s response to earth’s need – but here he turns the tables. It is the children lifting their arms (a very earthly act) that has ramifications in the heavenly Son of God who receives them to himself and blesses them.
There is a stark contrast here between the nit-picking legalism of the Pharisees and the expansiveness of Jesus. Jesus came to announce the Kingdom of God – an invasion of earth by the Son of the Creator-God bringing healing to brokenness and salvation for sinfulness. This was the greatest of all cosmic events, an event of more lofty and earth-shaking import than all events before or since.
It is the arrival of grace – God’s unmerited favour – in a world desperate for meaning, for healing, for rescue.
But God’s loving respect for us does not force upon us heaven’s solution for our earthly dilemma. It is up to us to respond – to open the way for God’s goodness to flood into our lives. And the image Jesus leaves us with is that of a child lifting its hands to him. It is the trigger that allows God’s grace to embrace us.
If you want a picture of repentance it is a child lifting its arms up to a loving Jesus who lifts it into his lap and blesses it.
There – you’ve had a fire and brimstone sermon on repentance.
God bless you.
A link to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories: