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Pentecost 20 Proper 22B RCL October 7, 2018

Job 1:1; 2:1-10
Psalm 26
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

In our opening reading this morning, we are looking in at a meeting of the heavenly beings. God points out a man named Job, who is faithful to God and chooses good over evil. Satan, who at that time in history was seen as a kind of prosecuting attorney, challenges God. Satan is certain that, if forced to endure all kinds of challenges and tragedies, Job will eventually curse God. So God gives Satan permission to visit these trials upon Job.

Our reading ends with the very sad picture of Job sitting in ashes with sores all over his body. Job’s wife tells him to give up his integrity, curse God, and die. Job refuses to do so. In the course of doing that, he insults his wife’s intelligence, revealing the sexist views of his time. Women were considered to be less intelligent than men. But we must remember that the book was written about twenty-five hundred years ago. Let’s hope that we have made some progress on that issue.

Back in those times and even now, there is a belief that, if we trust in God and do God’s will, we will be healthy, wealthy, and wise. If we are faithful, we will be prosperous. This belief can be summarized as good things happen to good people; bad things happen to bad people.

Such beliefs fall under what I call BT, Bad Theology. We have only to look at the life of our Lord to see that good people indeed suffer. Jesus endured the worst possible death and humiliation that anyone could suffer in his time.  Many of God’s most faithful servants have faced great difficulties. Yesterday in our calendar, we remembered William Tyndale, who was killed for translating the Bible into English!

Job loses all his many possessions; his family and friends desert him, except for some so-called friends who spout Bad Theology to him, adding to his suffering. People laugh at him. Where once he was sought out for advice and counsel, people avoid him. And still he will not curse God. He will not abandon his faith. He will not give up hope. The Book of Job does not solve the problem of evil, but it does assure us that bad things happen to good people and that just because someone has great riches and power does not mean that that person is following God.

We live in a fallen creation. This world us not operating in the way that God would want it to. At the center of our faith is a cross, and, as we look upon that cross, we realize how far this world is from what God would call it to be. On that cross, some very powerful humans tried to kill the love of God.

We had another clergy conference this week on racial reconciliation. One of the books we were asked to read was White Like Me by Tim Wise. Tim is the son of a Jewish father and a Christian mother. He is white. He grew up in Nashville, and, for some reason, he had more African-American friends in school than white friends, that is, up through middle school. In middle school, he noticed that the classes were supposedly arranged according to ability, but the white students ended up in the accelerated classes and the African-American children ended up in the slower classes, no matter how intelligent they were.

When he got to high school, the system became even more rigid. There were college-bound tracks and vocational tracks. No African-American young people ended up in the college-bound tracks. At one point, early in high school, one of Tim’s closest African-American friends tells Tim that he will no longer speak to him because they are in different worlds. Simply because he was white, Tim had opportunities that students of color did not have.  When it comes to issues of race and gender and class, we are not on a level playing field.

In our gospel for today, the Pharisees ask one of those questions that indicate that they are not trying to learn anything; they are trying to trick Jesus.  In Jesus’ time, it was lawful for a man to divorce his wife for the most minor reason. He could divorce her if he didn’t like her cooking or if she didn’t keep house the way he wanted her to. The woman, on the other hand, did not have the same rights. She was his property. It was almost impossible for a woman to get a divorce for any reason.

In order to be responsible interpreters of the Bible, we must pause and say that when our Church barred divorced persons from receiving Communion, that was a misuse of Scripture. There are times when divorce or annulment of a marriage is warranted. Domestic violence is real, and it kills marriages. Also, some people can appear to be capable of holding up their end of a marriage commitment but, as time goes on, it becomes apparent that they do not possess that ability.

Jesus is telling us that marriage is a lifelong commitment, and he is also telling us not to treat any human beings as property. The reason we know this is that Jesus tells the disciples to let the children come to him. It is hard for us to believe, but in those days, children were chattel, possessions, and, worse, they were almost considered dispensable. 

A man of that time and culture would not spend time with children. He was too busy going about important business to waste his time with a little child. That was women’s work.

Yet our Lord takes these little ones and cherishes them. And he tells us that we need to receive his kingdom with childlike openness and wonder and trust and faith. As we read the Book of Job, we can see that Job has that almost childlike faith. He will not give up on God. He trusts God.

Our Lord is also calling us to treat the most vulnerable among us with the same love and respect with which he treated those children.  Amen.

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