INTRODUCTION TO THE SCRIPTURE
JOB 1:1; 2:1-10. The Book of Job is a long poetic work from a large body of “wisdom literature.” Only some of that collection was included in the Hebrew scriptures. Job is unusual in that it deals with a single theological issue: the problem of suffering.
In this excerpt in story form, the stage is set for the testing of Job’s faith. Satan (a Hebrew word meaning “the Accuser”) acts like a prosecutor at a trial in God’s heavenly court to see whether or not Job will deny his trust in God as a result of continual suffering.
PSALM 26. This psalm is a fitting accompaniment to the lesson from Job. It protests the innocence of faithfulness of an individual worshiper. Integrity is the operative word throughout as a devoted Jew pleads for God’s vindication.
GENESIS 2:18-24. (Alternate) No end of confusion comes from attempting to correlate the two descriptions of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. This is the earlier of the two, dating from the 8th century BCE whereas the first comes from the 6th century BCE.
The interpretation of the creation of woman from a rib of man, distinct from all other creatures, signals what became a rigid tradition for many: the subjugation of women. Another possible translation of the Hebrew word for “rib” is “side.” This gives much wider meaning to the rest of the passage of the woman as an equal helper, partner and “one flesh.”
PSALM 8. (Alternate) The psalmist first contemplates the glory of God manifested in the wonders of the heavens. And yet the psalmist reflects on the minute place of humanity in such a vast universe. The environmental issues for us are vastly different than they were when this psalm was composed. Sadly, by taking the text literally, we have excessively exploited our role as God’s vice-regents with “dominion” over nature.
HEBREWS 1:1-4; 2:5-12. Few passages in the New Testament contains a higher expression of Christology defining the true role of Jesus Christ in the Christian tradition. Ch. 1:1-4 summarizes the basic message of the gospels. Ch. 2:5-12 gives us a clear definition of God’s plan in coming among us in Jesus: to bring us into the glorious presence of God.
MARK 10:2-16. Jesus voiced his profound concern for stable family life and for children. In Roman society, marriage had one purpose – to provide a legal heir who would inherit a man’s property. In Jewish society, men could divorce their wives for any reason, or even at a whim. Wives had no such right without their husband’s consent. In vv.10-12, Jesus put women on an equal footing.
The setting of the two subjects in sequence is surely not by chance. It is fully evident in our day as in Jesus’ time that women and children suffer most when love dies and marriages are dissolved by divorce. Modern society is moving inexorably to separate what is meant by civil and religious marriage. A clear distinction can be drawn between a civil contract and a sacred covenant made as an act of worship in which God participates.
A MORE COMPLETE ANALYSIS
JOB 1:1; 2:1-10
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The Book of Job is one of the treasures of the Hebrew Scriptures. This long poetic work comes from a large body of “wisdom literature” only some of which was included in our Bible. It is probable that the present literary work is dependent a much older story. This present version has been interpreted by some scholars as analogous to the suffering of Israel during the Babylonian exile. Others have seen the prologue and epilogue as an independent story for which the poetic dialogue (3:1- 42:16) was separately composed.
Job is unusual from most Hebrew scriptures in that it deals with a single theological issue: the problem of suffering. It was designed as a drama in which the prelude is contained in chs. 1 & 2 and epilogue in ch. 42:7-17. Between these we have a series of dialogues in which Job argues with three friends with great intensity, and a fourth who seems somewhat out of place. He contends that he is suffering unjustly while they insist that his suffering is caused by sin, known or unknown. Then, in chs. 32-37, a younger accuser enters the debate berating Job for his intransigence. Finally, God answers Job’s complaint with a series of rhetorical questions to which there can be no response. Job admits his ignorance, but the issue remains an unresolved mystery.
The discussion deals with three aspects of the problem of suffering: Why do people suffer and what are its origins? Is there such a thing as innocent suffering? What am I to do when I am suffering? The first two questions do not have a satisfactory answer. The last may involve an encounter with God, which only provides an indirect, existential answer, but also tests one’s faith to the limit.
This excerpt in story form, sets the stage for the testing of Job’s faith. Satan (a Hebrew word meaning “the Accuser”) acts like a prosecutor at a trial in God’s heavenly court to see whether or not Job will deny his trust in God as a result of continual suffering.
However we may wish to deal with the problem of suffering, perhaps the more poignant issue is the theology of the anthropocentric universe that lies behind the problem as the Book of Job portrays it. This theology follows the Priestly Document of the late 6th century BCE separating creation from deity. One finds it first in Genesis 1, followed by many psalms and much of the Wisdom literature. Koheleth or Ecclesiastes may be the exception in our scriptures. A comment by a radical thinker on this issue, Bishop John Selby Spong, challenges this theology as recently expressed in his weekly e-mail newsletter available through Agora Media or Beliefnet.com .
Spong’s view is that theism is only one theology – and a late one at that – to be found in scriptures. By buying into theism, that we are “a little lower than the angels,” we have turned the universe into our playground, free as God’s surrogates to be the most aggressive bullies and always available to exercise our domination. So we can do as we will with the natural resources, all non-human species and God’s gifts of air, climate and every ecosystem from the most minute to the greatest. We are now beginning to see the consequences of such misconceptions as environmental disaster awaits all who pursue such practices.
To restore the balance in creation, we must redefine our theology, its definition of God and our relationship to God. We have misread our scriptures, Spong claims, and should now begin to search the Bible anew for a different, more appropriate and yet valid definition of God.
Could the source of human suffering be in ourselves? As the cartoon character Pogo once said, “We have seen the enemy and it is us.”
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This psalm is a fitting accompaniment to the lesson from Job. It protests the innocence of faithfulness of an individual worshiper. Integrity is the operative word throughout as he or she pleads for God’s vindication.
The word t’m pronounced “tome” and translated integrity is used relatively little and usually late in the Hebrew scriptures, most often in the Psalms and Proverbs. It speaks of innocence, completeness or perfection. The psalm itself is similar in tone to Pss. 3-5, 7 and 17. All are laments of individuals, but also closely associated with the post-exilic temple liturgy (vss. 6-8,12).
At first, the psalm appears to be a private appeal to Yahweh by a worshiper pleading innocence and faithfulness, not once but again and again. The specific situation is so general that it could be used by anyone seeking acquittal from guilt of a very personal nature or consorting with evildoers, especially those who make a business of crime. One thinks of the exorbitant funerals celebrated for senior members of the Mafia or Hell’s Angels. As such the psalm could be used by any individual or a group come to declare their innocence in a liturgical setting. It has been suggested that vss.6-7 should be relocated after vs.12 because they appear to refer to processions that circle an altar, as described in 1 Kings 18:26 and Ps. 118:27.
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(Alternate) No end of confusion comes from attempting to correlate the two descriptions of creation in Genesis 1 and 2. This is the earlier of the two, dating from the 8th century BCE whereas the first comes from the 6th century BCE.
The interpretation of the creation of woman from a rib of man, distinct from all other creatures, has long been claimed as evidence for a rigid tradition: the subjugation of women as inferior to man. Another possible translation of the Hebrew word for “rib” (tsala) is “side.” This gives much wider meaning to the rest of the passage of the woman as an equal helper or partner and of the couple as having “one flesh.”
It would appear that Philo, the Alexandrian Jewish scholar of the 1st century CE adopted this interpretation: “The letter of this statement is plain enough; for it is expressed according to the symbol of the part, a half of the whole, each party, the man and the woman, being as sections of nature co-equal for the production of that genus which is called man.” (The Works Of Philo, 796. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts.)
This approach is featured in a copyright article by Wayne Simpson, distributed by the Biblical Research Foundation, of Sapulpa, OK. He concluded that a woman created from a rib was once a simple if dramatic metaphor. It can now be reinterpreted as a beautiful symbol for the most profound relationship between men and women. He felt that God gave woman an absolutely equal status with man. (http://www.jasher.com/Adamsrib.htm)
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(Alternate) Without any knowledge of modern astronomy or space research, the psalmist first contemplated the glory of God manifested in the wonders of the heavens. One can imagine a devout courtier like Isaiah standing on the flat rooftop of his Jerusalem home or a herdsman like Amos watching over his resting flock on a Judean hillside. As either of them gazed into the heavens they saw the panoply of stars spread out above them and a full moon rising over Jordan. We who have spent summer nights at Canadian camps and cottages or watched the northern lights illuminate a winter sky know well how such a scene gives one an overwhelming sense of how infinitely small and insignificant we are.
And yet, the psalmist reflects not only on the minute place of humanity in such a vast universe. He also brings his faith to bear on his sense of smallness. He knows that we have a special relationship with the Creator of this universe and hence a special relationship with the created world in which we presently live. (vv.5-8).
The environmental issues for us are vastly different than they were when this psalm was composed. Sadly, by taking the text literally, we have excessively exploited our role as God’s vice-regents with “dominion” over nature. That calls for repentance and radical change in our attitudes and our actions, individually, communally, globally. We must think of ourselves as stewards rather than masters of creation. We can only continue to praise our Sovereign Lord’s majestic name if we accept total responsibility for restoring our right relationship with God’s creation. As The New Creed of The United Church of Canada states, we must learn that we are “called to be the Church … to live with respect in creation.” The latter phrase was added under the leadership of our Moderator, Very Rev. Stan Mackay, who was a member of the Cree Nation.
HEBREWS 1:1-4; 2:5-12
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Few passages in the New Testament contains a higher expression of Christology defining the role of Jesus Christ in the Christian tradition. Ch. 1:1-4 summarizes the basic message of the gospels: the incarnation, life on earth, death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of God. Ch. 2:5-12 gives us a clear definition of God’s plan in coming among us in Jesus: to bring us to the glorious presence of God.
There is an intentionality about the Letter to the Hebrews which sets it apart from other so-called epistles. The author and the exact date of its composition remain unknown although there are illusions to it in Clement of Rome’s letter to the Corinthians written before the end of the 1st century CE. Presumably Clement knew but did not say who the author was. Authorship did not become an important issue until Jerome assigned it to Paul and the Latin Vulgate in the 5th century CE and so identified it for next 1000 years.
Two significant factors cancel that possibility: the style is totally different from Paul’s and the writer refers to having received the gospel directly from those who heard Jesus (2:3). It is not really a letter at all, but much more like an essay designed to convince Jewish Christians, probably those in the Diaspora, of the supremacy of Christ over the Levitical priesthood associated with the temple and to encourage them to remain faithful during a time of crisis when many were tempted to withdraw from the Christian fellowship.
This could be a clue that the date of its composition was just before or just after the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple in 70 CE. In her helpful study of Hebrews, Frances Taylor Gench posits a much broader range of dates from the time of the expulsion of Jews from Rome by Emperor Claudius in the early 60s to the threat of persecution of Christians by Emperor Domitian ca. 95. Jewish Christians were also denied participation in synagogues after the Synod of Jamnia toward the end of the 1st century CE. (Hebrews and James. Westminster Companion to the Bible. Westminster JohnKnox Press 1996.)
The issue of the supremacy of Christ stated in these passages also forms the general theme of the whole essay. Neither angels, the law of Moses, or Aaron and the old order of the priesthood could match or surpass what God has done for those who believe in Jesus Christ. The elements of temple worship are very much in the author’s mind as are contemporary concepts of angels, those heavenly agents of God’s will and purpose on earth and courtiers in heaven. It is not necessary for modern humans to worship as did the Jews of that time or accept the traditional concepts of angels in order to understand the message: Nothing supercedes Jesus Christ in bringing God’s purpose to fulfillment. On the other hand, the figure of Christ suffering as a pioneer of faith or exemplar of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah comes to the fore (2:10-12). This same image reappears most vividly in chs. 11:1-12:11.
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Jesus here voiced his profound concern for stable family life and for children. In Roman society, marriage had one purpose – to provide a legal heir who would inherit a man’s property. In Jewish society, men could divorce their wives for any reason, but wives had no such right without their husband’s consent. In vv.10-12, Jesus put women on an equal footing.
The setting of the vulnerability of women and children in sequence is surely not by chance. It is fully evident in our day as in Jesus’ time that women and children suffer most when love dies and marriage is dissolved by divorce. Modern society is moving inexorably to separate what the difference between civil and religious marriage. The distinction lies in the fact that a civil contract can be negotiated away but a sacred tripartite spiritual covenant is made as an act of worship in which God participates along with a man and a woman.
But how does one deal with this passage at a time when the ratio of divorce to marriage is 1:2? Many people in every congregation and many in the order of ministry have been through the painful experience of grieving for a broken marriage. Many of the more traditional church folk are irate that in many legal jurisdictions marriage is no longer considered an exclusively heterosexual relationship.
These anomalies appear to deny the very words of Jesus himself in vss.6-9. As one who has experienced a frequently stressed but deepening relationship with my spouse of more than 55 years, I personally would have difficulty preaching on this passage.
The Complete Gospels: Scholars Annotated Version (Robert J. Miller, ed., Polebridge Press, 1992) has a helpful comment. The Pharisees had malice in their hearts as they put their question to Jesus. He responded by jousting with them, using his own scriptural quotations to counter theirs. He gave precedence to the opening chapters of Genesis over the Mosaic tradition from Deuteronomy 24:1-4. In a subsequent and private conversation with the disciples, he did not forbid divorce so much as remarriage.
That may not be a very satisfactory solution for the modern age. Perhaps it would be best for us to acknowledge our sinfulness and failure in creating lasting relationships for whatever reason. There are many different reasons why divorce may be the best of bad options. Roman Catholicism adopts another attitude that tends toward casuistry. Absolute divorce is forbidden but a marriage may be annulled when it can be shown
that a true marriage did not exist according to the appropriate doctrine of the church. A marriage deemed to be non-Christian in the eyes of the church, however, may be granted an absolute divorce. For most mainline Protestant churches, divorce can still present tricky questions which does not have an easy or logical religious solution.
As the influence of churches in society declines, marriage and divorce may best be left to the civil authorities to deal with while the churches concentrate on the spiritual and covenantal aspects in both premarital and post-marital counseling.