The Adventurous Lectionary – Pentecost 22 – October 28, 2012
Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Replacement puppies and goldfish! That’s what parents often do when a child’s beloved pet dies. Sometimes they can fool the child, but not often! Eventually, even with fish and turtles, a perceptive child may recognize the difference and come to doubt their parents’ honesty. In today’s scripture, Job falls down before God and confesses his impiety. He confesses that he had not realized the scope God’s power and grandeur when he questioned God’s justice and morality: “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” In return for his humble apology, Job receives twice as much as he had before, and even ten children. But, are they the real thing or simply replacement children?
There is something about the ending to Job that just doesn’t seem right. Most scholars believe that the ending was added to the text to undo some of its criticism of the tradition of acts-consequences and rewards-punishments, enshrined throughout Hebraic theology. But, it isn’t a very good ending: the apparent orthodoxy disguises a terrible theology that may not even fool a child. Was Job so emotionally insensitive or shut down that he did not mourn the deaths of his first children? As a parent and grandparent, I know that no future children would ever replace my “boys.” The edgy pastor must ask hard questions of this scripture: Were Job’s first children of no account? Didn’t their deaths matter – to Job or to God?
We may grow after tragedy, but our healing and growth never fully make up for the pain and losses we’ve endured. After all the pain Job endured, did he ever recover from his God-induced trauma? Did he ever accept his beautiful daughters and successful sons as fully his own? Did he ever fully make peace with God and experience God in terms of love instead of fear and awe?
The conclusion of Job also begs the question: How do we understand God’s relationship to humankind and the world? Do we understand God primarily in terms of love or power? Too often, we have sacrificed love to power in our images of God and quite possibly our images of humankind and political and business leadership. Job’s God is surely awesome in power and ingenuity, but is there any real love displayed by God’s intentional testing of Job, God’s allowing his children to be killed, and God’s acquiescence to Job’s physical torture?
The Psalmist proclaims “taste and see that God is good.” This is surely a sensational scripture. This would be a wonderful opportunity to have an agape feast with all sorts of fruits – strawberries, grapes, kiwi, pineapples, apples, and bananas, not to mention chocolates and other sweets – strewn on tables throughout the church. The church could have a “God-tasting” service in which congregants are invited to savor the fruits of the earth. Such feast for the taste buds would be a great surprise to many congregants, but, oh, the children and the children in all of us would rejoice.
The passages from Hebrews and Mark invite us to be bold about our prayers. If Christ is interceding for us, for what will we ask? If Jesus was to ask you, “What do you want me to do for you,” how would you respond? Could we, like Bartimaeus, shout out our needs and desires? What would it be like if the preacher invited her or his congregants to shout out what they truly need? Dare we share this in church, as we move from supplication to assertion? In the shouting, we may move from our obvious desires to our deepest desires and to God’s intercessions within us.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Lincoln University. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.