Job, Jesus, & Good News
Texts: Psalm 31:9-16
Following Emily’s lead in her teaching last week, I would like to acknowledge our first-nation people in this region, the Anacostia tribe who were members of the Piscataways. In like manner, I would like to remember the enslaved African people who worked in the fields along this portion of the Potomac River.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, God says
…consider my servant Job? There is no one like him in all the earth ….
and in the Christian scriptures, God says about Jesus
….You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
Both Job and Jesus were well-regarded by God: Job as trusted servant and Jesus as a beloved son. The stories of these two people have captured the imagination and attention of the people of faith for over two millennia. Pain, and especially undeserved suffering, occupies many of pages of our Bible.
This can especially be seen in the Book of Job. We read that Job loses his all of his wealth, his possessions, and his 10 children. His wife tells him to curse God and die. His friends, after sitting with him for a week in silence, start to badger him to repent for his sins even if these sins are unknown, and his neighbors shun him and no longer recognize him.
Jesus starts out his visit to Jerusalem for Passover (called by us Holy Week) being celebrated with waving of Palm Branches as he enters the city. He is an up-and-coming teacher/rabbi, a miracle worker from Galilee in the North.
Galilee is a lush region of beautiful hills and valleys whereas Jerusalem is more of a rugged, rocky, mountainous region. I once spent a couple days on retreat in Galilee and can easily understand how Jesus might find and experience God there.
The Jerusalem populace waves palm branches, treating Jesus like a king as he enters. The Hebrew Scriptures in Isaiah 50: 4 may describe him as:
The Lord God has given me
The tongue of a teacher,
That I may know how to sustain
The weary with a word.
However, before the week is over, Jesus’s star seems to have fallen. The local police (aka Temple guards) with the help of an informant arrives in the middle of night with overwhelming force, carrying Jesus off from the Garden of Gethsemane to the headquarters of the Temple authorities. The Jerusalem religious leaders are threatened both by his growing popularity and by the economic disruption he was causing in the Temple marketplace.
The drama of Holy Week takes place within a 1 mile’s-radius. The Garden of Gethsemane is rather close to city of Jerusalem but a rather tortuous trek down into a valley and then up again a steep slope. The old Temple was on a mount in the center of the old city with Pilate’s palace, the Praetorium close by. Today that building site is a convent called Ecce Homo, translated, “This is the man.” The present day Church of the Holy Sepulchur with the tomb of Jesus nearby, is said to have been built on top of Golgotha.
The trip to the Temple headquarters seems not to have been one in which Jesus’s neck was broken; he was not thrown into the back of police van to roll around as the police picked up other targeted people and common criminals along the way. When Jesus arrived at headquarters, the religious leaders, who seemed well-practiced in getting done what needed to be done while living under the Roman occupation, had the end of Jesus’s life already in motion. There was a special night trial with a judgment of blasphemy against Jesus. That equates to the act of insulting, showing contempt, or lack of reverence for God. In more current times, William Casey, a former CIA director, claimed that persons who opposed his brutal policy and tactics in Central America were blaspheming the United States, thus equating our nation with God.
With this judgment, Jesus was probably roughed up to make sure that he did not forget his crime against the Temple in case he slipped out of their grasp if Pilate set him free for some reason. Also, there always seem to be those hanging on to power who focus their greed and anger by inflicting pain on others and accepting money. The rack, waterboarding, stretched positions, extreme hot & cold, extended sleep deprivation had not been invented yet, but whipping left its mark long after the event and using thorns to make a crown was not only painful but a humiliating way of taunting. Jesus’s friends were nowhere to be seen except for Peter who was trying to stay close to Jesus but incognito. Judas seems to have regretted his role as fingering Jesus for capture but was not willing to face his deed and change. The rest of the 12 were hunkering down in hiding. Psalm 31 may speak to Jesus’s thoughts through the long night.
11I am the scorn of all my adversaries,
a horror to my neighbors,
an object of dread to my acquaintances;
those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead;
I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many—
terror all around!—
as they scheme together against me,
as they plot to take my life.
Jesus may have wanted to rethink his promise to God to “drink this cup if he must.” Jesus had gotten many warnings to stop his disruptive preaching. Martin Luther King may have had similar thoughts as he address the garbage disposal workers in Memphis the night before he was killed. He knew from the get-go that he was a target for some. King also had the eerie sense that he had moved more into the crosshairs of more and more people as he expanded his teaching of civil rights and nonviolence to human rights and non-violence. He had followed his call to name the US as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world,” but it had been costly to his civil rights efforts. He like Jesus trudges on to the mountain top.
Job was no Jesus or MLK following God’s calling in a righteous cause. Nevertheless, Job did had similar physical and spiritually threatening problems. He was tormented with boils and by unhelpful friends. Mrs Job was not helpful, telling him to “cruse God and die.” His three friends tuned problematic by keeping up the mantra for Job to admit his sins and repent. His friends proclaimed that bad things happen to bad people, and therefore he needed to repent for something. Both Job and Jesus made it through their separate dark nights without despairing, giving in to their tormentors, and/or breaking with God. Job unlike Jesus was noticeable with his augmentative challenge to God to show up and answer his questions. Jesus was willing to suffer for his faith because he believed that God was with him.
God is not looking too good here. God is not answering Job and God seems to be letting the bullies destroy Jesus. So where is God in all of this pain and suffering? How do we make sense of all this. God does not ride in in either of these situation like the US Calvary to save the day or fly in like Superman to bring the offenders to justice. What type of God would make a deal with Satan to inflict pain on Job as a test of his faithfulness?
Is this the same God who allowed European Jewry to almost be wiped out in the Holocaust of WW II? There is a story about a group of Jews in one of the Nazi concentration camps who put God on trial. In the Jewish trial tradition, three judges were appointed and since God did not show up to face his charges, they tried God in absentia. The trial was done in Jewish tradition with three judges so that there would be no ties in the final decision. God was found guilty of crimes against humanity for not stopping Hitler. After the trail was over, someone noticed that the sun was going down and called the people to evening prayers.
In the Holocausts many Jews remained faithful as Jesus did during Holy Week. Jesus in contrast does not argue with God nor does he argue his innocence with the Jewish Authorities or the Roman authorities in or out of court. He stands before all, neither fighting nor fleeing from his call as God’s prophet. He stands firm with an assertive presence that exhibits “God’s love and forgiveness that seeks the good and expects justice.” This is sometimes called Jesus’s third way. Jesus does not respond to violence with violence, hurt with hurt and do battle until one side wins; and Jesus does not take flight and run from the situation of hurt and violence or choose to admit to the trumped up charge to avoid pain/suffering. He stands with the Good News of the Gospel that God’s reign is present and his justice reigns. Luke captures some of this firmness in Luke 4:18-19.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
I wonder how Jesus or anyone else could sustain this firm allegiance to God. In contemplative Christianity, this standing with God, sometimes with physical and/or emotional pain, is called the Dark Night of the Soul. It is a wild and woolly experience where you are lost in spiritual and sometimes in emotional darkness. And you stay in this darkness until you make friends with it (aka accepting, surrendering to being lost and considering that OK), and God then invites you out of it. This invitation out of purgation is called the unitive experience. St Teresa of Calcutta had a very long experience with her Dark Night which lasted almost 50 years. Jesus’s dark time seems to have been mercifully brief, a matter of hours. Paul in Philippians (2:5-8) also speaks to that experience:
…..When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion.
When Jesus goes before Pilot, the Jewish Authorities crank up their propaganda machine and whip up the crowds so that Pilate is not willing to pay the cost of doing justice as a civil servant to save Jesus. Jesus is fed into the Roman crucifixion mill which was well tuned to suppress dissent; crucifixion is the response to an act of state terrorism. The target of this state terrorism is humiliated by being stripped naked and nailed to a tree with non-mortal wounds in such a way that he had to struggle for each breath. Exhaustion from pain and exertion set in after a few hours and the victim then dies of asphyxiation. The bodies are usually left on the tree until they are eaten by birds and wild dogs.
Jesus must not only have been spiritually strong but also physically strong because he stayed alive in this torture until late in the afternoon. Mark says in 15:33:
At noon the sky became extremely dark. The darkness lasted three hours. At three o’clock, Jesus groaned out of the depths, crying loudly, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” …. Jesus, with a loud cry, gave his last breath. At that moment the Temple curtain ripped right down the middle.
And so that is how it is. Jesus is dead and the only part of the Apostles Creed that could be written so far is that Jesus is:
… the only son of God, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius, crucified, dead, buried, and descended into hell….
Looks like Jesus movement will be erased from memory. The church and state have colluded to create their own reality. Will false facts with enough repetition and brute force win in the end?
Maybe after the apostles found a safe place and caught their breath, they started to hear God in a way that Elijah did in a “still small voice” coming out of the torn curtain in the temple. Maybe they noticed like Job that God does answer their prayers and respond to their suffering in ways that they don’t expect. God did not respond to particulars of Job situation but spoke out the whirlwind reminding Job that God not only created the earth but takes great delight in it. Job is jolted from his present plight and changes his mind and strives to put into perspective his suffering with that of delights and joys that life offers to him. In this reconsideration, Job is both humbled and drawn more deeply into God’s word of abundant life. God has noticed Job’s steadfast faithfulness, his standing firm with God and his friends. God also notices that Job’s friends were problematic, like some churchy people declaring what God wants but not being better friends through compassionate presence and prayers to God. God invites Job and Mrs Job to reinvest in life with a much larger perspective and deeper faith. The greater miracle about the Job story may be not Job’s wealth and possessions are returned two-fold, but that Job and Mrs Job decided to have children after experiencing how hard life and suffering can be.
However, the disciples and other potential leaders are not out there in God’s face like Job. There are huddled in the Upper Room in grief and fear. The only likely future leadership must come from them, and they are scattered, with one being an informant and other one incognito. If I were a disciple, I would be hoping for God to speak out of the Whirlwind like in Job. Is the tearing of the curtain the only appearance that God is going to make? The disciples and Jesus’s close followers had only their experience of Jesus. Is that enough? How would any of us sit with that question in grief and fear?
Parker Palmer in his Outward Bound experience came to terms with some of his fears as he was rappelling down a mountain cliff and suddenly found his feet dangling in mid-air as he journeyed downward across a cave. He stayed dangling for a long time until someone reminded him of the Outward Bound motto: If you cannot get out of it then you need to get into it. Parker took some time to get himself together knowing that his companions were there with him waiting for him to do what needed to be done. At some point in time, Jesus’s followers would remember that Jesus in his life neither fought nor fled but always stood firm, standing firm in assertive love, forgiveness, friendship and justice (D. Erlander, Manna & Mercy).
Jesus seems to have done his work with God, and now it was the turn of his disciples and his followers. The disciples were at the point of the hero’s journey in which one says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" So we leave this holy week drama with Jesus executed as a blasphemer of God by the Church/ Temple and as a trouble-maker for the State. Will God finally show up? Will there be an Anti-Temple & Anti-Roman armed rebellion?
The disciples simply do not know, but they hope something will make sense of all this. Will Easter Sunday happen to them and how may it happen to us? God only knows. I hear that sunrise is a particularly good time to be awake to the mystery of God.
To be continued next Sunday.