Weekly Introduction to the Readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (Proper 24b / Ordinary 29b)

Job 38:1-7 [34-41]

Job has cried out because of his great suffering.  Our text from Job last week describes Job’s countenance with these troubling words “…and Job could be consoled no longer.”  In this week’s text God answers Job’s cry.  The answer provided by God points to Job’s profound human limitations and ignorance.  However, Job’s ignorance is not Job’s fault. Job is not ignorant in the ways of his time and people.  On the contrary, Job’s previous worldly success is proof that Job was quite knowledgeable and experienced in his own time and place.  Job’s limitations are of another kind.  Job does not and cannot know what God has done from the beginning until now.

When God finally speaks to Job’s complaints out of the whirlwind it is Job’s limitations that are front and center!  Faced with Job’s bitter complaints about his suffering, God points to his transcendence.  In essence God replies why do you question me about your suffering, I am beyond you?  While this answer is unhelpful to relieve suffering it should be remembered that when our temporal physical existence is threatened we desperately need a transcendent God who is not boxed in by the confines of temporal physical existence.  In God’s response Job encounters a God who ‘was’ when Job ‘was not.’  This God is so far before and so far beyond the moment of our suffering that in His presence all our experiences receive a new and greater context.  We are one teeny tiny part of a great and vast cosmos.

At the same time, while God points to God’s transcendence, God still wants Job to know the extent to which God is present in all of creation.  God is present down to the very last detail.  Thus, in the middle of describing the measuring of the foundations of the world, and the giving of limits to the sea, Job hears this remarkable rhetorical question from God, “Who provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander about for lack of food?”  In response to all of God’s probing questions Job is silent.   God is so vast but so focused, so general but so specific, so cosmic but so particular.  God builds the universe, and hears the cries of baby ravens.  Job is still learning about his God–his ignorance is being lifted every day.

Psalm 91:9-16

Psalm 91 is the promise section of the famous eagle’s wing poem.  In this promise section the psalmist praises a God who is a refuge for those that love God.  Of particular significance is the Psalmist’s claim that God is a God who “answers those that call on him.”  This Psalm is given as an appropriate Psalm of response to God answering Job in our previous reading.

Hebrews 5:1-10

Hebrews 5 declares that God made Jesus a high priest.  The author declares that a high priest is able sympathize with the people because a high priest is also human, “He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness.”  Jesus was also subject to weakness.  The Hebrew author writes that Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.”  Further Jesus “learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”  This concept—that suffering teaches obedience and makes one perfect—is called “person making theodicy” and is one of the classic answers to the question of the existence of suffering in the world.  While this answer is not without criticism, it does suggest that suffering can play a role in our ‘growing up’ into this great cosmos that we live in.  But this text also challenges the future reality of suffering by making reference to our ‘eternal salvation’ gained through the Christ, the one who suffered for the sake of all.

Mark 10:35-45

Our gospel lection records the famous request of James and John (the sons of thunder) to sit at the right and left of Jesus in the Kingdom of God.  In essence Jesus’ response is you have no idea what you are asking for.  The entrance to the kingdom is not victory but defeat, it is not glory but suffering, it is not ruling but service.  James and John, like Job, are guilty of great theological ignorance.  Their’s is a theology of glory, and not a theology of the cross.

Celebration of Worship

As you prepare your hearts, thoughts, prayers, and hymns for Sunday consider the God you are ignorant of.  What does it mean to be ignorant of God?  What does it mean to worship a God who ‘was’ when you “were not.”  What does it mean in our own times of suffering to realize that God is a God who came to suffer and ‘give his life as a ransom for many?’

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