Thursday, October 11, 2012

No More Hiding, No More Secrets -- Lectionary Reflection

Job 23:1-9, 16-17

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 10:17:31

No More Hiding, No More Secrets

            We all have secrets.  There are dark places in all of our life stories.  We’d just as soon no one knows anything about those secrets.  Though in the age of social media and security cameras, it’s a lot more difficult to keep secrets.  But, we do try. 

A number of years ago there was a movement among evangelical college students to open up to the community, and confess one’s sins and trespasses before the community.   The idea was that revival would result from this confessional movement, but in reality it did little more than titillate observers, and cause deep embarrassment and often irreparable harm to those who chose to make the public confession.  Some things are best left unsaid – at least in public.  As far as I know this movement didn’t last, probably because campus ministries, schools and colleges, like the one where I was teaching at the time, tried to dampen the movement so that it could do no harm.  Yes, some things in life aren’t meant to be shared far and wide, and when we share we need to be sure it’s the right thing to do.   But, if we think we can hide from God – well that’s another story all together.  It would seem best to assume that there is no place to hide from God.  If this is true, and one would assume that an infinite God knows what’s going on in our hearts and in our lives.  So what does that mean for us? 

            We have before us three texts of Scripture.  In Job a righteous man seeks to find God, so he can make his case that he is righteous and being mistreated.  Unfortunately, God seems absent.  If Job can’t find God, it appears from Hebrews 4 that God knows where to find us, for    “no creature is hidden from [God’s Word].”  And Jesus seems to know what’s going on in the hearts of those who approach him.  These texts call on us to reflect on the way in which we approach God.  Do we try to hide or do we recognize that there’s no place to hide, and if this is true, what then does it mean for us? 

            Let’s begin with Job, the one who is righteous but who is also the victim of an apparent wager between God and Satan.  Job is, you might say, simply a pawn in a game these two figures play in the heavenly courts.  Satan is given carte blanche to “test” Job.  Satan pushes Job beyond the bounds of what any person could withstand, trying to make Job curse God.  God has faith in Job, but does Job have faith in God?  Indeed, should he have faith in this seemingly capricious God?  Here in Job 23, Job is seeking answers to his questions.  He’s not ready to curse God, but he’d like answers.  He wants to go to court, and lay out his suit.  Unfortunately, God is nowhere to be found.   Job’s case is simple – he has done what is good and right.  He’s righteous and has never cursed God, so why is God cursing him.  He has confidence in his case, but there is a worry – perhaps, if he makes it to court, God will seek to intimidate him, using brute force.  This thought, however, is fleeting for “he would surely listen to me” (vs. 6). 

            There is in Job’s story here a certain confidence – his cause is righteous – but he’s not completely convinced about God’s justice.  First God is absent – he’s looked high and low, but can’t find him.  And there’s that fleeting thought about intimidation.  Besides, as Job confesses – “God has weakened my mind; the Almighty has frightened me.”  Is this not a feeling we often have?  Do we not feel, at times, as if God is either absent or not listening?  And if we feel like yelling at God – as Jeremiah was wont to do – do we fear retribution?  These are the questions so many have about the character of God.  We’re just not sure.  But, our passage concludes with a bit of a ray of hope.  Job confesses:  “Still, I’m not annihilated by the darkness; he has hidden deep darkness from me” (vs. 17).  In other words, I’m still here.  I’m still breathing.  There’s hope for a new day.  There’s hope for answers.

            The book of Hebrews is an enigma.  We’re not always sure what to make of it.  In part that’s because the question of authorship has always been present.  It has great words about faith, and yet it also delves deep into typological interpretations of Jewish ritual.  Here we have a text that is known to many.  It speaks first of God’s Word that is “living, active, and sharper than any two-edged sword.”  In dealing with this passage we have to decide what this “Word” is, or better “who” this “Word” is.  Taken out of context, it’s often applied here to Scripture, but it’s clear from context that another Word is meant.  It’s the living Word, it’s Jesus, God’s Son. 

            So what then do we make of this word about the Word?  How is this Word sharper than a two-edged sword that can penetrate or pierce down to the joints and marrow, to the soul and spirit?  The answer is found in the 13th verse – the Word, the Sword, is the means of judgment.  You can’t hide, you can’t obfuscate.  When Christ, the Living Word, is judge, he knows our hearts.  He knows our motives.  Though we might try to hide, it’s futile.  Just because no one else can see, doesn’t mean God doesn’t see.  I can pretend, of course, and I’ve been known to do so, but that doesn’t mean God can’t see me.   Whereas Job wanted to find God to make his case, here we’re reminded that whether we see God or not, God sees us.  And it’s to this judge we give account.

            Before we get too concerned, the author of Hebrews speaks a word of hope.  There is a High Priest who can take up our cause.  This high priest, who is Christ, can sympathize with our weaknesses, for he, like us, has been tempted in all things.  There’s nothing that Jesus, the High Priest, has not faced.   He hasn’t succumbed, but he’s faced our temptations.  Therefore, we can “draw near to the throne of favor with confidence so that we can receive mercy and find grace when we need help (vs. 16).       

            This theme that Jesus knows our hearts and minds is also present in the Gospel reading.  A man runs up to Jesus to get clarification on the means of entry into eternal life.  What is it that I have to do?  Jesus answers – what’s the Law say?  And the man recounts his observance of each of the commandments, well most of them, anyway.  Is this enough?  Jesus could have said – good job you’ve done well.  You’re in.  But he doesn’t.  He could have, if he was a good modern Christian, said – well that’s nice, but this really was a trick question.  Entrance into the kingdom comes by faith, not works.  So, say a little prayer, make your confession, sign the register, maybe get a little water on you, and go your way.  Then you’ll have made it.  But Jesus doesn’t say that either.

            Mark writes:  “Jesus looked at him carefully and loved him.”  Jesus, the Living Word, the one who like a sharp, two edged sword penetrates to where soul and spirit can be separated, looks into his heart.  He loves the man – sees him as one who truly seeks after God – and yet something is amiss.  Jesus loves the man, but must call him to accounts.  Jesus says then to him – I’ve got an additional word for you.  “Go and sell your possessions and give all to the poor, and then come follow me.”  Do this, Jesus says, and you’ll have crossed the river.  But of course, he could do it.  He had too many possessions.  He couldn’t seem to extricate himself from them.  And so he walks away sad and regretful, but unable to entrust his life to God.  Fortunately for us, we have grace, and we don’t have to worry – that’s the old dispensation.  We live under a new one. 

            I don’t think Jesus will let us off so easily.  The Disciples, who though for the most part are drawn from the margins, have come to believe that riches equal blessings, and therefore the rich must be righteous, for only the righteous get blessed by God.  But Jesus shocks them by telling them that it’s “easier for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter God’s Kingdom” (Mk 10:25).  What do we make of this?  How can this be? 

            As I read this passage, I recognize the hold that my own possessions have on me.  I think I too might walk away.  The Disciples had, of course, left everything behind, and so they seem to be safe.  But Jesus knows their hearts as well.  Still, they receive a word of hope – don’t worry, you’ll be blessed.  I know what you’ve done.  But what about you and what about me?  What’s going to happen to us?  What does Jesus know about our hearts?  As we contemplate these questions, we receive this word, which we shouldn’t take for granted -- what is impossible for us, may be possible for God, but I’m not sure Jesus is letting us off the hook.   

            Though we may go searching for a seemingly absent God, the full witness of Scripture suggests that God knows where we can be found, and God knows our hearts. And surely God is calling us all to make those choices that make us uncomfortable.  In the mean time, as we contemplate this call -- might we pray as God’s people have prayed down through the ages:   
Almighty God, unto Whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee, and worthily magnify Thy holy Name: through Christ our Lord. Amen.  (Book of Common Prayer, 1549). 

1 comment:

John said...

Tis morning I find the Gospel reading especially challenging, in the best ways. Among the issues which grabbed my attention were:

1. The contrast between the Apostles who were called by Jesus and the young man who was exploring his faith; with whom do we stand closest to? The dispensational reference is problematic, because it seems to suggest that the young man was challenge to a greater commitment, all or nothing, than is the average Christian today. Moreover the pronouncement about getting through the needle's eye, would seem intended for the young man as well as the modern Christian, the challenge would seem no greater for him than you and I. If you are suggestion that in the new dispensation we can rely on the help of God, then I have to ask what kind of divine justice that would deny the well-intentioned young man that same help, especially in light of his direct face-to-face appeal to the living Jesus? If Jesus can promise paradise to the thief on the cross, why not to this man?

2. The use of the word "inherit" caught my attention. Is this whole encounter built on the issue of divine obligation and how a mortal can bring it about? Is the young man really asking what he can do to obligate God to grant him eternal life? And then is Jesus' answer, if you sacrifice everything then in response God will reward you with everything (eternal life)?

I have always interpreted this as being about guarantees, that is, unless you are willing to gamble everything, (and nobody is - I am convinced that this story is not just about the idolatry of the wealthy) nothing is guaranteed. This means that we are compelled to trust in the grace of God for what happens today, tomorrow and in the next life. And genuine trust involves risk taking, including the risk that despite a perfectly worshipful life disaster may befall us (as in Job's case).