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Wednesday, October 03, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: Job 1:1, 2:1-10 AND Psalm 26:1-2 OR Genesis 2:18-24 AND Psalm 8:1-9, Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16

I had a colleague who at times got a bit overzealous in pushing his pet projects on his congregation. One day one of his parishioners turned to him and asked, “Who died and made you chairman of the board of the universe?”  I’ve been a bit of a control freak myself.  I like to believe that that tendency has been much-tempered in retirement and after a life of realizing there’s lots that happens beyond our control. There are nevertheless tendencies in many of us to want to have the powers of God.

Some of this week’s scriptures suggest that, indeed, we are to count ourselves right up there close to God. Most of us who claim to be followers of Jesus have at least heard ourselves described as being “created in the image of God.”  Genesis 1:27, for instance, says, “ . . . God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

In this week’s lectionary readings we have the familiar Psalm 8 which looks around at the majesty of all creation and wonders, “What are human beings that your are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” (vs. 4)  The musing continues with the observation, “Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.” (vs. 5)  (Some translations say, “a little lower than angels.” Either way it’s a pretty high view of humanity.)

The lectionary reading from Hebrews harks back to Psalm 8, noting that it says God subjected “all things under their feet,” i.e., the feet of human beings.  Hebrews take this quite literally—to the extreme. “Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control.” (Hebrews 2:6-8)  There’s power and control for those who would be God.

The writer of Hebrews is quick to note that “we do not yet see everything in subjection to them.” (vs. 8)  The fact is that starting from early childhood we learn that not everything is under our control.  There is much that happens to us that we would never have imagined, in some cases never have wished for.  Some of it is good; some, not so good.

Job is one who thought of himself as almost God-like in his perfection, and discovered it didn’t exempt him from the bad things in life.  In fact, in today’s reading he asks, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10)

The book of Job was written, in my opinion, as a drama.  The drama pictures a contest in which God allows Satan to do everything he can to destroy Job’s faith.  For centuries human beings have been asking why bad things happen to good people. 

As the drama unfolds, Job loses his health, wealth, and family.  Three friends sit with him and try to offer him comfort and understanding, but their answers are unsatisfying.  He rues the day he was born, (See Job 3:1), but Job never loses his faith.  Job is being tried and offers a lengthy defense (see especially Job chapters 29-31), after which a fourth young “comforter” rebukes them all and comes to the defense of God.  God shows up in a whirlwind and asks who is Job to try to outguess God (Job chapters 38-41).  Job realizes that he has to come to grips with the mysteries of life, that he can’t control all the outcomes (Job chapter 42).

One way to read the story is through the lens of integrity and self-righteousness.  I suspect Job was a little bit difficult to live with.  Is God perhaps even speaking a little tongue-in-cheek when he says of 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 . . .” (Job 2:3)?  The Hebrew word for integrity here can imply perfection.  A person who thinks he or she is perfect, or a perfectionist, can be kind of offensive, perhaps not inclined to bow humbly before his or her God.  Indeed, Job’s wife right off, says to Job, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9)  Job never curses God, but his final accuser’s words are described as a condemnation of Job’s “self-righteousness.” (See the heading for chapter 35 in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible.)  Job has a bit of a superiority complex and throughout is thoroughly defensive about the fact that he is right on every count.  We get that way when we try to be like God and control everything.  In essence God’s lengthy words spoken from the whirlwind ask, “Who do you think you are?  God?”

Psalm 26 picks up the same theme. David declares twice, “I have walked in my integrity.” (vss. 1 & 11)

Maybe we can go overboard in trying to take on the role of God, in trying to control every event in our own lives and in the lives of those around us, but the earlier readings still affirm that there is something of God in us to be celebrated.  At the same time, we need the humility to remember the “little lower” in those declarations. There is always a power at work beyond us, but it is also the power that is work within us.

So how do the other lectionary readings for this Sunday fit in?

The account of Genesis found in chapter two differs from the earlier account.  This one unfolds almost as if God were going about it trial and error.  First a man is formed, but that doesn’t seem to be enough.  One man alone is not enough.  To be human is to be in relationship.  It’s basic to human identity and functioning.  So God decides to make a helper. (Genesis 2:18—Let’s not read too much into that word.  Biblically, a helper is not necessarily a subordinate.  God is described as our helper.  A helper can be a superior, an equal, or an inferior.)  Animals seem to be the first attempt to find a helper, “but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner.” (Genesis 2:19-20—Note the word “partner” which implies equality.)  So God tries again, making a woman from the rib of the man. (vs. 22)  God gets it right this time.

The superiority of the man has often been read into this passage, but at the heart of it is the fact that the man and the woman are both made of the same thing.  “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh,” the man says. (vs. 23)  Many have used verses like these to condemn homosexual relationships.  I believe that is a misuse, but getting into all the subtleties of interpretation is too much for today’s blog. Today, I see it as a passage which speaks to the unique value of every person, male or female in whatever kinds of relationships, as carrying the image of God.

This week’s Gospel reading harks back to the Genesis story (see Mark 10:6-9) and connects it with the question of divorce. (Vss. 3-4 & 10-12)  How we deal with divorce is a matter for thorough discussion. Today, though, I want to note that this story is sandwiched between two encounters with “little ones.”  In Mark 9:42, Jesus says, “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”  In this week’s lectionary reading, people are trying to bring their little children to Jesus, but the disciples are curtly dismissing them. (vs. 3)  Jesus notices and is upset, saying, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.  Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”  And Jesus, “took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.” (vss. 14-16)  The disciples are being reminded that the children are created in the image of God, of infinite worth, almost God-like.

Let us always remember, however we interpret the nuances of all these passages: Every life matters and is valuable as God’s Spirit moves in and through all of life and its relationships.


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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