I Am the Greatest

As always, take a look at the texts for this week by following the link below…

http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearB_RCL/Pentecost/BProp24_RCL.html

And, now, let’s take a look at what I think the texts are trying to tell us…

Job 38: 1 – 7 (34 - 41)

So, in this section of Job, we finally have God appearing – speaking from a whirlwind, for dramatic effect – and explaining to Job why all of this happened to him. (“You see, I made this bet with Satan, and wow, we didn’t think you could do it…”) Not God’s best moment, and our experiences with the world might lead us to conclude that perhaps the Almighty is an incurable gambler, winning a few, losing a few on the way to some satisfying outcome. Well, God does speak, but Job does not necessarily get the explanation for which he was hoping.

As our text unfolds, it seems God is not interested in Job’s situation or in providing answers to his questions (The Great and powerful Oz tried this approach with Dorothy and her friends, and I wonder if this speech inspired Frank Baum?) Instead, God has some questions for Job that seem intended to illustrate to the mortal that he knows nothing about anything and should not be musing about things above his pay grade. (“Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth” Who determined its measurements? Surely, you know. Can you send forth lightning?”) 

This goes on for about four chapters and it is fair to ask how they provide Job any answers. They clearly do not respond to his condition or specific concerns. Surely Job has more to take away from this than understanding how truly insignificant he is to the workings of the universe and how irrelevant his concerns are to the greater matters that God to which God must attend. So, here’s what I think.

It is clear that God does not punish the wicked and reward the righteous – that things just happen. Job – since he has received reward for his good behavior – wonders why and how the system has broken down, and why God has stopped doing God’s job. It is a hard lesson to learn that there was never a system of reward and punishment in the first place. So, the god news – it is not something that Job did. He no longer has to search his conscience for that moment where he slipped and earned calamity. That’s an important point for us to consider in today’s partisan approach to poverty and crime, etc. Victims – of tragedy, illness, violence and poverty – are not necessarily to blame for their misfortunes. Sometimes bad things happen for no good reason, and sometimes – in the case of systemic evil and corruption – those bad things are intended to happen. But – in tension with this – there is also a learning that the world is random and chaotic. There is a force of love that works to counter pain and suffering.

Karla Suolama puts it this way: “In a universe created by God and in which humans live, the challenge is how to hold these two aspects together -- 1) the world is orderly and 2) tragedy doesn’t always have a reason. In some ways, these two aspects show very different realities that exist simultaneously. The realities of Job and God collide in this section, and they are both true. The fact that God responds with questions, though different than Job’s, also suggests that the dialogue between them is ongoing, open and unfinished. This might be the best news of all. Job is not God but they are somehow connected to each other.”  A good place to leave this.

Hebrews 5: 1 - 10

Not much has changed since last week. This is still a strange little book…  often credited to Paul, but this is most definitely not one of his creations. And, there is nothing in this week’s offering – referring to Jesus as our high priest who offers sacrifices for sins – that lessens the controversy surrounding this book because of its heavy orientation around sacrifice. As we have illustrated in other musings about other texts – especially the prophets, who were the first to challenge the primitive religious practice of sacrifice and scapegoating - the trajectory that continues through the New Testament completes the transformation. (Jesus self ‘sacrifice’ turns the old system upside down, in spite of some Christian efforts to mimic the old system by claiming that Jesus death was necessary to appease God for the sin of Adam).

What I find interesting about the text, though, is the implication present in this passage: “So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him, “You are my Son,  today I have begotten you”; as he says also in another place, “You are a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” This is not John’s (Gospel of) Jesus, who is the eternal Logos of God and who comes down from heaven to rescue us, but rather, he is one who is chosen and rises through the ranks (shades of Mark’s adopted, or drafted sonship)

Oh, and, who is Melchizedek? He is mentioned twice in the OT. Genesis 14:18-20: “And King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High…”. And in the Psalms, 110:4: “The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.'” The name Melchizedek means king of righteousness; Salem (“shalom”) means peace. So Melchizedek, King of Salem, is a king of righteousness and peace.

Mark 10:35 - 45

Mark’s version of the ‘James and John incident’. I always appreciate the way Matthew tries to soften things in his Gospel. Peter gets to be ‘the Rock’ and in this story – to save them embarrassment, perhaps – Matthew has the mother of James and John come to Jesus with the request. Not as powerful.

For the sake of time, two interesting themes intertwine. The idea of servanthood as the defining mark of the kingdom and the idea of this place of honor and the ‘ranking’ of disciples. (As one of my T-shirt says, ‘Jesus loves you, but I’m his favorite.’ End of that argument).

There is a new power that is being unleashed in the world, that is capable of undoing the current structures. To adopt the posture, the frame of mind, to be servant of all, is to walk away from the institutions and systems and seductions of the current order of things, and to render them powerless. More simply put – if it takes two to tango, then walking off the floor ends the dance.

Then there is the request of John and James to be at Jesus left and right – which Jesus says is not his to grant. Actually, in a couple of chapters we will find that the places at Jesus left and right are handed to common criminals, who – like Jesus – are victims of the system, and who hang beside him outside the city walls. (You didn’t see that one coming, I’ll bet).

N.T. Wright assesses the intersection of these two themes thus: “We have, alas, belittled the cross, imagining it merely as a mechanism for getting us off the hook of our own petty naughtiness or as an example of some general benevolent truth. It is much, much more. It is the moment when the story of Israel reaches its climax; the moment when, at last, the watchmen on Jerusalem’s walls see their God coming in his kingdom; the moment when the people of God are renewed so as to be, at last, the royal priesthood who will take over the world not with the love of power but with the power of love; the moment when the kingdom of God overcomes the kingdoms of the world.”

See you next week.