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I HAVE to talk about Job today,
or more precisely, God’s indictment of Job — and us.
I have to because I really want to.
But first, I want to be a teacher
and note something fascinating about Mark
that is only tangentially related to Job.
If we look at the story we just heard from Mark
as it is told in the Gospel of Matthew
a critical difference comes to light.
In Matthew it is not the Zebedee boys
who try to elbow their way to the front of the line,
it is their mother.
asks Jesus to make her boys
princes in the organization,
thus leading Jesus
to later refer to the Zebedee boys as
“the sons of thunder.”
The reason for this difference
between Mark’s and Matthew’s versions
is that Mark is a Gentile,
speaking to Gentile audiences
of Roman citizens
and trying to convince them
to care about Jesus.
Matthew meanwhile, creating his gospel
fifteen or so years after Mark,
is a Jew writing to Jews
and trying to convince them
that Jesus is the new Moses.
Mark, throughout his gospel,
paints the disciples
and any close associates of Jesus
and bumbling idiots.
We do not know why he employed
this literary device, but maybe
it was an ethnic slur — looking down his nose
at Judean Jews from the perspective
of Gentiles elsewhere in the empire.
It could have been a way of distancing Jesus
from his Jewishness
in order to make him more attractive
to Mark’s audience.
In contrast, Matthew takes every opportunity
to clean up Mark’s stories
to make the disciples look a little better.
In the case of “who is the greatest”
Mrs. Zebedee becomes the foil
and the cause of the brouhaha.
So what we might have in this story
are some words of Jesus
that were remembered
and passed on by oral tradition
before they were actually written down
by either Mark or Matthew.
Since Mark is the first of the Gospel editors,
he has to take this saying
and give it context:
“You know that among the Gentiles
those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them,
and their great ones are tyrants over them.
But it is not so among you;
whoever wishes to become great among you
must be your servant,
and whoever wishes to be first among you
must be slave of all.”
In other words, he has a saying
handed down without a story,
and so he creates a story
to preserve the saying in.
The story is interesting
but not the important part.
The nub of the actual Jesus-saying
is likely around the idea
that the Gentiles judge greatness
by coercive power,
while Jesus’ students are to judge greatness
by militant servanthood.
So that is what I felt the need to share
because Mark and Matthew
gave me the opportunity.
But what I love about that piece from Job —
and that I want and need to share again —
is that God
turns Job’s questioning around…on us.
It is such a beautiful prosecution
of the human mind,
and it graphically answers
all those times
we shake our fist
and demand to know “Why!”
God answers Job’s long river of questions,
“out of the whirlwind.”
God always talks to his friends
from out of something wild:
a burning bush,
a smoking mountain,
God says, poetically, I think:
“Who is this
that darkens counsel
by words without knowledge.”
What a great line.
In other words,
God is letting Job know up front,
that he is an ignorant,
ridiculous, little creature
with no standing
in the court of the gods.
This story is about our ignorance,
it’s about our humility,
it’s about our smallness.
It is a story that demands
we accept our ignorance.
In other words,
there are things we do not get to know
and making up beliefs
that fill the gaps in our knowledge
is an act of blatant faithlessness.
To make up answers
for what we do not know
is an act of radical mistrust of God.
But we are like those Zebedee boys
and we host a restless child within us.
I assume I am not alone here
when I point out this small child’s voice inside
that never actually grows up,
and who will haunt our adulthood
This little kid inside
is always angling for a better place
and more knowledge
and more privilege
and more blessing
than is appropriate
or even possible.
No matter how mature,
wise, and worldly
there is always a child within us
asking for more
That same sad presence within us
when our smallness
to revealed to us or the world.
When we are confronted
with uncontrollable outcomes,
and unfathomable ignorance,
or absolute limitations,
that child within gets as angry and rageful
just as any actual child
is capable of a temper tantrum.
But here is the thing about God
that we should know:
God is indifferent to our rage.
Indeed, God is detached from our anger.
To our ranting
God asks without the least bit of defensiveness:
“Where were you
at the beginning,
when the waters covered
the face of the earth?
Where were you when the sky was void of light,
and not a single heartbeat
could be heard
in the vast expanse
of interstellar space?
Where were you?”
It is as if God is saying to us,
“Look, you are too small.
Your perspective is too limited,
and your capacity to understand is outsized
by your desire to know.
Trust me or not,
but there are some questions
you must live without the answers to,
so get on with it.”
deeply authentic religion,
the kind with a soul of depth,
is able to hold faith in its arms
and cradle it with tenderness
in spite of not knowing.
It goes back to those Hebrew Lament Psalms.
As I mentioned last week,
the ancient lament found in psalms
like the one Jesus quotes
while hanging on the cross,
begins with an anguished complaint
but ends with an acceptance of our ignorance
and an act of trust called “praise.”
It seems like a contradiction but it is not.
It is the ultimate act of trust.
It is faith in the absence of knowing.
It is agnostic faith —
holding onto the love of God
even though we do not know
what we most want to know.
When a lament ends in praise,
is the moment of agnostic faith
it is an act of militant acceptence
that we are in the humble position
to trust God or not.
At that moment,
at that intensely inflated moment,
we move forward
with a fierce and relentless hope
toward the world we are supposed to create,
or we move forward with total cynicism
that we live and then we die.
I am talking about a grown-up faith here,
not the religion of that inner child.
I am talking about a grown-up faith
that can stand to listen
to God prosecute our arrogant complaints.
“Where were you
when the earth was created
and a formless void?
Tell me, if you know so much,
how the Cosmos should work.”
And so we are left on the beach
or outside the hospital room,
or standing at the grave,
or watching the madness unfold
on television, computer, or phone
and all we can do
is shake our fist
open both hands
and give thanks.
we get on with it.
We do not get to know
but we trust God anyway
and go on living our lives
as if we are the Zebedees
with a mission to accomplish.
That, my friends,
is the acceptance of ignorance
and the humility of smallness
and a willingness to trust God.
The most radical faith of all
is to know
and to accept
that we do not know the mind of God –
but we will move forward
with relentless hope
and rock solid trust, anyway.
We do not know,
and we do not get to know,
and we refuse to make up answers
to fill the gaps in our knowledge.
Instead, we trust God
and move forward.
It is a pull up your pants kind of faith
that puts in check the child within,
and accepts our ignorance and smallness.