10/28/18 – Re-Forming Job and Bartimaeus

RE-FORMING JOB AND BARTIMAEUS

October 28, 2018
23rd Sunday after Pentecost
Job 42:1-6, 10-17; Ps.34; Heb.7:23-28, Mk.10:46-52
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

At last, after a whirlwind tour of the book of Job, we get to the final chapters. I’ll give a short recap for those who have missed one or all the past three Sundays of Job scriptures.

A member of God’s heavenly court served as the one who kept the naughty and nice list. In Hebrew, the word “hassatan” means “the accuser.” It was not until the time of the New Testament that Satan became a proper name for the Evil One. later known as Satan. Hassatan was concerned that Job’s faithfulness to God was due only to the abundance of blessings God had bestowed upon him. Job had lots of land and animals, which made him a very rich man. He had 7 sons and 3 daughters. He enjoyed good health. But hassatan convinced God that Job should be tested to see if his devotion was pure. So, Job lost everything – his land, his animals, his children and even his good health.

Job was not so much sad, as angry. He was sure his misfortune was because God had been distracted and had let all these calamities fall upon Job in his absence from him. Three friends visit Job during his time of mourning and offer their explanations for his suffering: Job must have sinned and is being punished. Job was sure if he could just argue his case before God, God would see the error of his ways and bless Job once again. After Job argues his case before God, God delivers a long speech in which he sites all the wonders of creation and challenges Job: “Could you do what I have done? At the end of the recitation, God even offers to let Job take over his Job, but by this time the wind had gone out of Job’s sails. He is humbled and awed by God’s omnipotence and omniscience.

Today, we hear Job’s response. The problem is that we have not learned from either God or Job the question we want answered. That is: “Why does a good God let bad things happen?” God’s response to Job’s accusations is ambiguous and so is Job’s final response to God.

What we can discern from the text is that Job has come to realize that neither he nor his friends understand the world, so he has no grounds for complaint against God. Job accepts that God is the Creator and King of the universe. Job declares: “5I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; 6therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” There are many different interpretations of the Hebrew words used in Job’s statement. Perhaps that is what the writer intended, but what is apparent is that Job now views God from a different perspective. By the hearing of the ear, Job may mean that he had heard second hand and that now that he has encountered God he now “sees,” meaning he has greater understanding. The second part of the sentence: “I despise myself and repent in dust in ashes has several translation possibilities, but the gist of each is that Job now recants his earlier accusations. Job is humble before God and admits that it is not within his power to understand God’s ways. As a mere mortal, one who comes from and returns to dust and ashes, Job can never understand the mind of God. Job’s admission does not sit comfortably with us. Humility is pretty counter-cultural these days.

From God’s speech in which all the wonders of creation are attributed to God’s creative powers, Job realizes that the dreaded “chaos,” which all humanity fears, is built into creation. Biblical scholar, Carol Newsome describes the reformation of Job’s worldview such that he sees “a world in which the vulnerability of human existence can be understood, not in terms of divine enmity, but in terms of a creation within which the chaotic is restrained but never fully eliminated. (Carol A. Newsom, The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. IV. The Book of Job. Nashville, Abingdon Press 1996, p.629)

God thoroughly rejects Job’s friends’ explanation that Job must have sinned and was being punished. God demands that they apologize to Job for their foolish advice and ask for his forgiveness. For those of us who were brought up with heavy doses of guilt and judgment administered frequently, this is a hard concept. Instead of “why me?” or “who is to blame?” the first reaction to misfortune is “what did I do?”

After all the speeches are over, the story seems to veer off-track. God blesses Job with twice the abundance he had at the beginning of the story. So, did God reward him for remaining faithful and rejecting his former complaints? Although the speeches in Job dispute the doctrine of divine retribution, in the final chapters of Job it appears that Job’s fortune because Job gave the appropriate response to God. Going back to the beginning, Hassatan inquired: “Does Job fear God for nothing?” (Job 1:9) Job recanted his original charges against God before God restored his blessings. In the Wisdom literature of the bible “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The definition of the Hebrew word for fear includes being in awe of God, to be humbled by God’s power and glory and ready to serve God as God commands. Job’s final declaration of submission and gratitude comes without expectation of reward. As one biblical commentator put it: Job does not fear God to receive a reward, but in fearing God, Job discovers the faithfulness of God.” God may be all-powerful, all-knowing and transcendent to humanity, cut God is also immanent caring for this one person, Job.

And so, it is with Jesus, according to our gospel reading from Mark. In Mark’s telling of the story of the blind beggar, the beggar has a name, Bartimaeus. At this point in Mark, Jesus has turned back to Jerusalem to face the cross that awaits him. Like Job’s three friends, Jesus’ disciples have failed to understand exactly who Jesus is.

In the book of Hebrews, the writer tells us Jesus is the high priest, not just for a human lifespan as former priests had been. Jesus the Christ is the high priest forever and is “able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (Heb.7:25) Unlike priests, he does not need to make the sacrifice as prescribed by Jewish law to atone for his own sins and then also for the sins of the people. Being without sin, Jesus sacrificed himself for the restoration of humanity. We do not plead or suffer alone. Jesus, who is the eternal high priest, intercedes for us.

While Jesus is headed to Jerusalem to complete the cosmic restoration, he also allows himself to be interrupted by one man, Bartimaeus. The crowd serves a similar role in this story to Job’s three friends. They do not understand Jesus, so they play by the rules of their society. They tell Bartimaeus to stop crying out to Jesus and to go back to being invisible, as we want people on the margins to be — like the homeless people driven off the streets to keep the residents and tourists from being disturbed. “Go to some other city, but don’t stay here where we can see you and be challenged by your need.” But, Jesus calls Bartimaeus by name. He was not just a statistic or the stereotype of all beggars, to Jesus he was Bartimaeus. son of Timaeus Every “blind beggar” has a name, a family, a story, and a place. As brothers and sisters, we are called to know people by name, not by condition or circumstance, not by race or ethnicity or socioeconomic status or sexual orientation.

Unlike the disciples and the crowd, without ever seeing Jesus with his eyes, he recognizes Jesus is the Son of God who has the power to transform his life. Bartimaeus, like Job in the final chapters, approaches Jesus with awe. He does not ask for anything but mercy. Jesus does not tell him what he thinks he needs, as we often do to people who are suffering from poverty and degradation, Jesus asks him: “what do you want me to do for you.” Jesus demonstrates his omnipotence by restoring the beggar’s sight; he demonstrates his imminence by recognizing the person in the crowd who is seeking him.

Being healed, Bartimaeus can now enjoy all the blessings of one accepted in society. He is no longer the outcast and can return to society to do whatever he pleases. Yet, when Jesus tells him to go on his way, he follows Jesus.

Like Job, he has a new perspective. Like the old hymn, Amazing Grace, he was blind but now he could see. He could see Jesus, understand who Jesus was and could not remain the same. Bartimaeus is re-formed from a blind beggar into a disciple.

Reminded of this day as Reformation Sunday, this is what Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers sought when they demanded change in the church. They worked so that the people did not just sit silently in the pews watching the priest and following the rules of church doctrine, but people who studied God’s Word for understanding to become disciples of Christ sent to be Christ’s body in the world. Job and Bartimaeus learned the lesson of Ephesians 2: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—

Thanks be to God. Amen.

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
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