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4th October - Hugh Perry

Date Given: 
1 October 2015

Readings

Job 1:1, 2:1-10

The first verse introduces Job as a blameless, upright and God fearing man.  This book is very much the counter to the prosperity gospel.  Job does everything right and everything bad happens to him.

Chapter two give us a vision of the heavenly court with Satan as a sort of inquisitor or council of the prosecution whose task is to make sure humanity is behaving itself.  Maurice Andrew notes that this is only one of three times when the Satan or adversary is introduced in the Hebrew Bible the other two being 1 Chronicles 21:1 and Zechariah 3:1.  He is not the originator and incorporation of evil here but a rather realistic challenge to traditional piety.

Job is not patiently resigned or gritting his teeth and bearing his misfortune but characteristic of Israelite faith that expects both good and evil from Yahweh who created both (Isaiah 45:7).  He is not stoic says Andrew but accepting. [1]

Mark 10: 2-16

No matter what I say about this reading it seems to bother divorced people.  However the key issue that Jesus speaks about is our human weakness and he says God recognises that weakness.  Jesus is however critical of the law that allows only men to divorce their wives and introduces the unique (for Jews at that time) possibility that women can also divorce their husbands. 

Morna Hooker says that Jesus is concerned with what God wills, rather than with what the Law allows and he stands in opposition to legalism.  She goes on to say ‘since human weakness continues, even within the Christian community, it seems that the possibility of divorce must always continue, but always with a recognition that it is necessary because of the breakdown of relationships, and never, as in certain Jewish circles in the first century, as an automatic right, to be justified as a Mosaic ‘command’.[2]

In the next section the disciples are once again rebuked for their exclusive attitude and Hooker notes that could indeed reflect the attitude of some church leaders towards children.

More importantly this story is a reminder that the Kingdom is given to those who are content to receive it as a gift without laying exclusive claim to it.  It is a warning to those who claim the right to exercise authority over others.[3]

Bill Loader adds an important contribution to the stress this passage often causes divorced people by saying that there is always a problem when people take Jesus’ sayings as legal pronouncements.  Forgiveness is always possible.  

The earlier passage in chapter nine and the story about children in this passage is easily trivialised.  It is not just about being childlike but also about the dignity and worth of children.  We should reflect on the abuse of children in our own day which includes exclusion, demeaning behaviour, abuse, violation, enslavement, and killing. 

Sermon

Last week through the story of Esther we looked at the conflict between legalism and human love and compassion and this week’s reading continues that discussion.  We begin the story of Job where the heavenly court agrees to test Job’s integrity.  In our Gospel reading the Pharisees come to test Jesus by posing a legal question in the belief that his compassion will drive Jesus to ignore the law and so discredit himself.

Just like the book of Esther we will get much more from Job’s story if we read the whole book.  That way we get to empathise with his suffering and the lack of empathy he receives from his wife and his friends. 

Job’s friends offer ‘pastoral care’ by insisting that his suffering is caused by sin so he should confess and seek God’s forgiveness.   Even if he was not aware of the sin he must have sinned otherwise he would not be suffering. 

It is the same cause and effect language that people in our world use to blame the poor for being poor.  Our government changed the name of the unemployment benefit to the job seekers benefit because they believed people were unemployed because they weren’t trying to get a job.  In our postmodern, post New Zealand Post economy some people are unemployable because of lack of skills or disability both physical and mental.  They are also unemployed because they lost their job.  Large organisations often seek short term profit and increased share prices by making people redundant.  Unemployed people are encouraged to get extra training but then still find they are unemployable because employers of skilled people only employ people with experience.    

Job’s wife obviously supports euthanasia because her only suggestion was to forget his integrity, curse God and die.

Job however holds onto his integrity, is convinced he is blameless and holds to the theological position that in accepting what is good from God he must also accept what is bad. 

In our Christian understanding we are less inclined to blame God and find it more acceptable to say that as we accept the good things in life we also need to be prepared to accept that things will go wrong and there will be bad things.  

Nevertheless Christians struggle with the concept of a loving God who allows bad things to happen.  In fact there are no easy answers to the question of why bad things happen to good people.  Evolution is a very brutal process and some people remain Christian by denying evolution while others become atheists in order to support a scientific view of creation.  Both those extreme views are most likely wrong and all our attempts to understand God are limited by our humanness.  

Furthermore there is a thin line between praying for healing and claiming that people whose health doesn’t improve haven’t prayed enough or did not have enough faith.  When I was doing a course with the Rev Don Prince one of my placements was at Hillmorton and I talked with one person who was back in hospital because someone told him that if he had enough faith to stop taking his medicine Jesus would heal him.

That was bad pastoral care and as misguided as the friends of Job who insisted that he confess the sins he didn’t know he committed.  I suggested that Christ was present in the clinical staff that proscribed the medication and the Spirit of healing inspired the scientist that developed the medicine.  God is not a divinity that functions through human laws or a limited view of cause and effect.  That was the problem with the Pharisees who confronted Jesus seeking support for flawed divorce laws.  The pastoral care that hospital chaplaincy provides is very much part of the healing process but it is also about being part of the team that includes the clinical staff. 

When we pray for healing we are not only sharing our hope with God but we are empathising with people’s suffering.  We are also reminding ourselves to be loving, caring and empathic.  We are also opening ourselves to the Spirit’s inspiration as we seek ways we can also be part of the healing we hope for.  Most importantly pastoral care and prayer can open a patients desire to be healed.  Job’s wife implored him to ‘curse God, and die’ (Job 2:10) and often the suffering from illness is enough to make people wish they were dead.  However time and time again miraculous cures happen because people have a heightened will to live.  As a boy one of the books I read, listened to on the radio and saw the film was Reach For The Sky, the story of Douglas Bader written by Paul Brickhill.  Those of us born over 70 years ago were not shielded from the horrors of war even in pacifist families.  Furthermore apart from growing up while her father was fighting in France my mother had a thing about Kenneth More who played Bader in the movie.  Therefore getting her to take me to see the film was easy. 

There was one scene where Bader was lying in hospital critically injured through his own stupidity and he heard a nurse in the corridor chastise her noisy companion by saying ‘Shush there’s a boy dying in there!’  ‘O no he’s not’ thought Bader and went on even without legs to fly fighter planes and resist captivity until the Germans finally sent him to Colditz.

Our natural healing process can be driven by our mental state and apart from a youthful defiance and yearning for life knowing that we are loved by others, and by God, can greatly improve our will to live.  That is the pastoral care that hospital chaplaincy plays as part of a hospital’s team of healers.  There is also a role for chaplains in being beside people when death is inevitable and caring for relatives and friends in that situation.

Life inevitably has a conclusion that at some point has to be accepted and humanity cannot regulate or understand life's incognisances.  Life simply needs to be lived with love and with empathy for the lives of others. 

That is a concept the Pharisees failed to grasp with their limited vision of marriage and the male prerogative to divorce.  Jesus pointed out to them that laws given by people to deal with human frailty and are not necessarily the way God intends things to be.  In coming to grips with this text we must also understand that, in the Jewish law of the day, adultery was committed against a husband.  It was a crime one man committed against another for which the woman was punished. 

Jesus makes the point that the man who constrains his wife by such a law but discards her for some trivial reason, or has a bit on the side, is equally guilty of adultery.   We must also remember that in John’s Gospel Jesus forgives the woman caught in adultery.  (John 8: 11)  So loving forgiveness brings new beginnings for both men and women.

That male centred understanding of adultery is still the case in many cultures today and women lose their lives because of it.  It is also an understanding still imagined by males with an inclination to violence in our own society.  Women who flee from violent relationships are most at risk of being murdered by their partners after they leave the relationship.  Such men claim to love their wives but stalking and lying in ambush to stab, shoot or beat to death their ex-partner is about control, not love.

Jesus dealt with that reality by expanding the human given right to divorce to open the possibility for women to divorce their husbands.  Neither is an ideal situation but humanity is not divine. 

Central to God’s love is forgiveness and new beginnings.  It is not God’s will for men or women to have their chance for new beginnings taken away by poisoned relationships.  The God we image in Jesus Christ does not expect men or women to be restricted to violent or abusive relationships by fear for their lives. 

What is most important to remember about this passage is that it shows a debate with antagonists.  We must understand this text in the context of the whole Gospel in which Jesus presented a God of freedom, grace and new beginning.  The God we image in Jesus Christ is a God who recognises human weakness and assures us of new beginnings and freedom from whatever slavery life or other people impose upon us. 

To live in the realm of such a God does not require legalism and scoring points through laws designed to find a way to live in community despite human weakness. 

To embrace the divine realm requires the loving acceptance a little child has towards those closest to them.



[1] Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand  (Wellington: DEFT 1999),pp.310-311

[2] Morna D Hooker The Gospel According To Mark (London: A&C Black1991), p.237.

[3] ibid 238

 

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