A Sermon for Proper 22: Job 1:1; 2:1-10, Psalm 26, Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16
Beginning today and through October we will be exploring Job. Job is my favorite Disney story in the bible. Disney? In the Bible? Think for a minute about the structure of Disney movies. When the movie opens everything is great, nearly perfect, expressed in a musical theme. Then something tragic happens and perfection is broken. In most, if not all the stories, a character dies. Eventually, the hero or heroine prevails, perfection is reestablished, and frequently the musical theme from the opening reappears in grand style.
Also, in Disney stories, when you are 3, you hear one story, when you are 30, you hear another story.
To help us glean the most we can let’s establish some background, beginning with the characters. We are first introduced to Job who is described as blameless and upright, one who feared God and turns away from evil (Job 1:1). The description of his life shows perfection, everything totals to ten, ten children, 10 thousand sheep and camels, ten thousand donkeys and oxen. In the ancient world, ten is the number of perfection. He is from Uz, and its location is vague, at best. His name is not typically Hebrew. Whoever he is, where ever he is from, Job is not Jewish, (Tucker, Jr.).
The next character is the ha-satan, with a little ‘s’. In the Old Testament, the word is used to describe both heavenly beings and humans (Tucker, Jr.). In your insert you read “Satan,” capital ‘S,’ in the Hebrew there is the article ‘ha’ in front of the noun ‘satan’ indicating it is a tile or an office, perhaps a sort of divine spy or attorney general seeking out those who are not loyal to God (Tucker, Jr.; Epperly). The next character is God, who is really the central character in the book.
We also meet Job’s wife. She has one line in 42 chapters,
Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God and die. (Job 2:9).
It is an infamously biting line. However, Elizabeth Achtemeier suggests it reveals a tragic character who is desperately trying to care for her husband while dealing with the same horrific losses he suffers. (McCann Jr.). I think I get Achtemeier is saying. Yes, Ms. Job is mad at Job; maybe mad at God. She also knows how much he hurts. She knows his pain is just as deep as her pain. She doesn’t shriek at her husband from anger. She shrieks out of her pain, the loss of prestige, the loss of status, the loss of wealth and ~~ the loss of ten children. And yes, I know I have said how little young children were valued in ancient days. These are not young children. Their children are adults.
Now that we have been properly introduced, it is helpful to put today’s reading in context. So here is a summary of what has just happened.
God’s court of heavenly beings gather and God brags about Job to ha-satan, who replies
Have you ever thought Job is so righteous because he is so blessed?
They make a bet, ha-satan will take away from Job everything he has, only ha-satan cannot touch Job, and they will see if Job remains righteous. In a series of disasters, all his flocks and herds and fields are destroyed, all the attending servants are killed, except the one who brings the news. A great wind storm collapsed the house his adult children were in, and they were all killed. All the attending servants were also killed, except the one who brings the news. Job responds by tearing his robe and shaving his head, traditional acts of grief (Harrelson; Keener and Walton). He then says
Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. (Job 1:21)
Today’s reading opens with the same heavenly council. God again mentions Job to ha-satan saying
He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him (Job 2:3).
Ha-satan ups the ante by noting that nothing has happened to Job’s person. They agree to a second bet ha-satan can touch Job’s person, to see if Job remains righteous, but ha-satan cannot kill him. As we heard Job is afflicted with sores and boils from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Job, sitting in ashes, a sign of morning, where he may have been grieving for his children (McCann Jr.), picks up bits of broken pots and begins scraping his skin.
A note about skin disease in the ancient world. If you have ever had a bad rash or other skin diseases, you may have tried to hide it. There is just something a bit embarrassing a big ole red, scaly, blob on your skin. One commentator notes this is so because our skin is involved in the public presentation of our self. When our skin is all blotchy, scaly and ugly, it is often a source of social disgust. In the ancient east skin diseases were believed to be a sign of divine displeasure, the worse the disease, the greater the divine displeasure. There have been multiple efforts to diagnose Job’s body wide extreme acne, but that effort simply misses the point (McCann Jr.). Job is facing another tragedy, another social disgrace presumably caused by divine displeasure.
So, what is the point? Two came to the surface; one is the question “Why bad things happen to good people?” and its associate the prosperity gospel. We will get to those in the weeks to come. Today I want to explore love and labors lost.
Love is risky business (McCann Jr.). It is not 50-50 deal, it requires you to give all you have. And while love is a source of great joy, it is also a well of agony because love cannot guarantee the wellbeing of ones we love. All the prayers, all the advice, all the rituals (good and bad) cannot diminish the vulnerability of being finite, mortal beings (McCann Jr.). The concern and commitment we put into ensuring the health, financial stability, and security of those we love is a sign of our love for them. These concerns and commitments and our loved ones are so important Job’s story forces us to face the possibility of losing them. The loss of our loved ones, or those things that provide for their wellbeing, and our well being is tremendously disruptive. We lose our moorings, we get disoriented and angry, and find ourselves in a shadowed valley of hopelessness. Job’s story forces us to face our roles in their loss. Job’s story forces us to face the apparent randomness of such losses.
Shakespeare’s Love’s Labour’s Lost is a comedy about four companions who swear off the company of women for three years to be spent in study and fasting. Of course, they fall hopelessly in love with the princess and her courtiers. Shakespeare does not resolve the tension, between their commitment and falling in love. The play simply ends with the death of the princesses’ father which results in all weddings being delayed for a year (Wikipedia).
Like Shakespeare, I find myself in the unusual place of not resolving life’s challenges introduced this morning. The story began describing a righteous man and his perfect family life. With God’s consent, something tragic has happened and perfection is broken. The hero/heroine has not yet prevailed. My prayer is that as we continue our walk-through Job we will learn something about ourselves, and more importantly something about God. Between now and then let’s continue to take the risk and keep on loving, our families, our selves, and our God, who knows perhaps not all loves labour’s are lost.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 7 10 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
McCann Jr., J. Clinton. The New Interpreter Bible Commentary The Book of Psalms (NIBC) Job 42:10. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. XII vols. Olivetree App.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Tucker, Jr., Dennis W. Commentary on Job 1:1; 2:1-10. 7 10 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Wikipedia. Love’s Labour’s Lost. n.d. 7 10 2018. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Love%27s_Labour%27s_Lost>.