FIRST READING JOB 1:1, 2:1-10 / GOSPEL MARK 10:2-16
Our Old Testament scripture today gives us this VERY interesting interaction and conversation between God and Satan – and as usual there are parts of it I don’t recall reading before – as is so often the case with scripture.
First of all – I do not remember the clear distinction that is given between Satan and the “heavenly beings that have come to present themselves to the Lord,” and the fact that God ask Satan so bluntly: “Where have you come from?” Which seems to indicate that he really didn’t know – and as if God didn’t care that much to begin with.
It also sounds rather like a put-down, doesn’t it? “Where did YOU come from?” (Which also implies the question, “Why are you here?”) And Satan of course simply replies, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
“Just wandering around in my territory,” Satan seems to be saying – as though he can’t find very much to do – “to and fro – up and down – same old same old . . .”
And the fact that Satan has no real report to give seems to be very pleasing to God – and, of course it is. Because this is Chapter 2 of the Book of Job and Satan has already taken all of Job’s property and his children and Satan’s silence clearly means that Job has responded faithfully just as God said he would.
So God goes back and repeats the original question he asked Satan back at the beginning of Chapter 1 that started this whole thing. “So – have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” (You get the sense that Satan must surely be scowling now.)
And Satan replies: “Skin for skin!” i.e. “What do you expect? If you pamper the wretched little creatures you have made with all kinds of good things in life then sure – they will show you conditional loyalty.” And then Satan adds, “They’ll give whatever they have to save their lives. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and flesh, and he will curse you to your face.”
God apparently thinks about it a moment (perhaps even wondering whether this is true) and then replies, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.” Don’t kill him.
So Satan immediately hammers Job with a nasty disease that inflicts him with “loathsome sores” from head to toe and Job sits among a pile of ashes and tends to his wounds while listening to his wife say, “Do you STILL persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.”
Boy – she’s a whole lot of help.
But Job renounces her and shows that his love of God is not at all conditional – saying, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”
And so here we have it – Job is inflicted with great pain – his life is clearly threatened by this disease and yet his trust in God is so complete that he stays true to the most important truth that he knows in his heart: “God has me and ALL things in his sight – in both life and in death and EVERYTHING in-between. I am His – and he is free to do with me what he will.
As I was reading this scripture I couldn’t help but think of the horrific tragedy of the students that were shot in Oregon this week. News reports indicated that each one was asked whether they were a Christian or not – and if they said “no” they were shot in the leg and if they said, “yes” they were shot in the head.
Can you imagine the commitment, love and TRUST that it took for those who were being asked, after others had already fallen, to say, “Yes?” That in that moment their not renouncing who they were and who God is, was so completely and eminently more important than their own life?!
I think it would be easy to make the argument that they should have just “lied” to get out of that situation. That being more “wise like a serpent” at that moment – so that the deranged shooter wouldn’t kill them – might have been the smarter thing to do.
But perhaps in the TRUE reality of things – where life goes on in eternity outside of space and time as we know it – Satan’s idea that human beings cannot love as they were originally created to love – failed once more. That the glorious truth is, that as children of the Father (who have been redeemed by Jesus), we can put everything on the line for Him – just as Job did – and that when presented with the taking of our very life also respond: “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,” Job says in chapter one after losing his children, “and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
So here is the simple Truth – things are NOT as they should be. There is rampant evil and great suffering in this world. But that doesn’t mean that God is not at work in every moment and through every decision we make every day – good or bad – ill-informed or inspired – from the great mind or the sadly deeply disturbed one. The events and happenings of this world are but snippets of space and time that as Paul speaks so eloquently in Romans 8:18 “are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”
Yes – Glory revealed IN us – not glory revealed TO us – that we ourselves – each one of us, who have been redeemed by Jesus’ great sacrifice, contain WITHIN us the ability to be AS we should be! And only GOD’s grace can make that happen – but we must, of course, do OUR part. And in the end it takes the patience – and the humility and yes, the unfailing TRUST of Job.
Our second scripture reading is a tough one for me because it deals with Jesus’ very straightforward words on divorce – and my marriage, while indeed a tremendous blessing to me in many ways (most particularly in the four beautiful children whom I am blessed to share my life and love with) did, nevertheless, ultimately fail – for reasons, that while perhaps unavoidable, did create a situation that was no less sad and disappointing. Life can and will live us all out in ways we never imagined.
But alas, renowned Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann once looked me dead in the eye and advised me to NEVER run from the text. So let’s ALL hear what it has to say to us now.
GOSPEL MARK 10:2-16
2Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” 4They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” 5But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.6But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ 7‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, 8and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
10Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. 11He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. 14But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
The grass withers and the flower fades but the Word of the Lord endures forever.
Well, if you’ve ever suffered through a broken relationship and ultimately believed that God’s will was for you to move forward, apart – then yes, these words can sting. But they can also be affirming, in that a divorce, as decreed by Moses as acceptable is also implied by Jesus to be acceptable as well – in that he points to that interpretation of the law as his basic answer.
But you have to also deal with his explanation that it was only allowed by God because of our own “hardness of heart.” That it was NOT as things were originally intended to be. But of course “allowed” is the operative word.
But then you have to go further, of course, and accept his words to the disciples who ask for more clarity – that even though this opportunity for renewal is given, to remarry another is, nevertheless to commit adultery against the former spouse. Because it goes against the original intention of God inasmuch as he gave marriage as the great gift it is to humanity. So, allowed? Yes. What God originally intended? No. So the application of the law is still there.
There’s no getting around it. “Our hardened hearts” have changed the reality of how, not just marriage, but how life was originally MEANT to be – such that yes, our many varied relationships (including those between man and wife) are rarely lived out as originally intended, due to our fallen-ness as children of God. And therefore we do indeed wind up making sinners of one another and falling short of the glory of God that he originally put within us.
So just as Job had to wrestle his way through his “predicament” (his life) in ways that God did not originally intend – so do we often face the same, and must wrestle our way through broken relationships and a broken world.
“Look,” Jesus seems to be saying, “Just because you have fallen short of God’s commandment and he has lovingly made accommodation for you (because he understands the struggles of this world) that doesn’t mean that His original desires and intentions weren’t and aren’t still valid.”
And His words hold us fully accountable to these intentions.
But then he offers a seemingly out of place but beautifully clarifying word. All this time the Disciples have been trying to keep some persistently seeking children away from him – not wanting the master’s “important work” to be disturbed by a bunch of children who surely have no way of knowing what he is really all about. And Jesus rebukes their efforts:
“Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. 15Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” 16And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
What? Weren’t we just talking about divorce and broken relationships and God’s giving a new commandment through Moses to accommodate our fallen-ness? Yet still being held accountable to God’s original intent? What is this about little children coming to him and only to such as these BELONGS the Kingdom of God?
Well, I suppose all kinds of things could be said of this. That children in their innocence and purity – and simple and honest seeking – demonstrate the most necessary traits to receive the Kingdom.
But perhaps we should also consider the fact that children’s fallen-ness is also so self-evident – in their own innately self-serving actions. (Put a single, highly prized toy between two toddlers and see what happens) As well as their endless curiosity that drives them to ignore clear rules and boundaries if they think they can get what they want. But who, nevertheless, show an endless – and yes even blind trust that all will be well!
Small children live with a sort of blind faith – a trust in trust, if you will – a joyful and unflinching desire to discover the wonders of the world that has been gifted to them – regardless of what life throws at them. And in so doing they illicit the very nature that Christ Himself said we must have in light of all that can go wrong with ourselves and therefore the creation that God has given us.
Are things not as they should be? Have you lost everything? As Job has? Are you sick and maybe overwrought with fear and worry because death looms large for you – or a loved one. Have you suffered through a broken relationship that to you was very much like a death itself. Or maybe you have found yourself questioning whether you have ever really lived your life as God truly intends?
Well, then – trust him simply and fully as a child – with no preconceptions – and no real expectations for any particular outcome. No matter what, just Trust Him. With Everything. So that God may receive you into the Kingdom that is His to give – both in this world – and in the life to come.
– Stuart Revercomb