Trinity 18

Sunday 3 October 2021

St Mary’s Hadlow

Trinity 18

Job 1:1 & 2:1-10  Mark 10:2-16

May I speak this morning in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We need to be very clear about something this morning.

Job was a good man.

The author of the book of Job is so keen for us to understand that basic point that it goes into chapter one verse one:

That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”

The reason it is important to remember Job’s essential goodness, and the reason it is placed front and centre, is because for much of the rest of the story which follows both we, and Job, are tempted to doubt that simple fact.  

Job’s so-called comforters sit with him and spend chapter after chapter telling Job that he must have been bad, even if he didn’t realise it, because they believe that bad things cannot happen to good people.

They took the very mechanistic, perhaps even karmic, view that if you are good then good things will happen to you and if you are bad then bad things will happen to you.  That never the twain shall meet and that if bad things do happen to good people then really, deep down, they must have been bad.

But, Job was a good man.  And it doesn’t just say this in verse 1, God himself says the same in verse 8, which we didn’t hear this morning:

Have you considered my servant Job?  There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil.”

He was blameless and upright, he feared God (the fear of God is not something we think about much today, is it?) and he shunned evil.  God himself confirms that there was no one on earth like him.

If you think about the Angel Gabriel speaking to Mary at the annunciation he said: “Mary, you have found favour with God.”

Although one has to tread carefully here, it certainly looks as though Job was ‘highly favoured’ too.

So, I hope we are now agreed that Job was good.

And yet, despite his goodness we know that personal calamity, followed by much tragedy, does fall on Job.  

Perhaps even more challengingly we heard this morning that the trials and temptations which befell Job were inflicted by Satan, but who was given permission to do so by God.

The temptation as a preacher is to try and understand and unpack the reasons that God may have done this but to do that is probably to fall into the same trap as both Job and his comforters.  At the end of the book Job challenges God to explain himself and God’s answer is not a trite explanation or comfortable platitudes, rather God continues to challenge us by saying to Job, effectively, where were you when I created the universe and who are you to understand my ways?

This probably offends us on many levels.  It may offend our image of God but it may also offend our modern right to know and understand everything, immediately!

But if we can quell our offence for a moment and enter into the story I suspect that it speaks to our lived experience much more than we may care to admit.  

We know that bad things can happen to good people.

Although few of us may be as upright as Job or as highly favoured as Mary we know that calamity and tragedy and sickness and, yes, death can befall those who don’t ‘deserve’ it in the karmic sense at any time.

It may be us, it may be our loved ones, it may be whole countries or the whole world.  It certainly feels as though we have been through a collective trauma recently, and one that continues to play out.

Like Job’s comforters we may blame those who are suffering or like Job himself towards the end of the book we may accuse God of injustice, and shake our fist and seek understanding, and it is perfectly fine to do that as illustrated not only by Job but in many of the Psalms, but sometimes we also have to accept that, although we are made in the image of God, that we are not God and that we will never understand the ‘big picture’ as he does, any more than a toddler can understand why it needs to eat its greens and go to bed when it is overtired.  I’ll come back to that in a moment. 

But first I’m going to mention Mary one more time, and then I’ll get onto Jesus, I promise.

I have already mentioned that the Angel Gabriel told Mary that she was highly favoured by God when he told her that she had been chosen to be the mother of Jesus.  And yet, when Jesus was taken to the Temple Simeon told her that a sword would pierce her soul and we know that it must have done exactly that when she saw that same Jesus on the cross having his side pierced.

Saying yes to God and being a good person does not mean that bad things cannot happen – faith and goodness are not a karmic exchange, as tempting and as easy as that is.

Which does bring us to Jesus, which is a good place for the preacher to end.

There can be little doubt, I hope, that like Job and like Mary, Jesus ‘found favour’ with God – as God the Son he could hardly be more blameless or upright.

But, on a human level at least, even being God the Son did not mean that nothing bad ever happened.

Like Job, Jesus was subject to trials and temptations and deprivations by the devil.  However, unlike Job, he gives us a different response and trusts himself entirely to a loving relationship with God the Father, as he did again in the Garden of Gethsemane – not my will Father, but yours be done.  

A trusting, loving and almost child-like response which comes from a place of deep belief that although we may not know or understand the reasons or the answers that there is a Father who does see the big picture beyond our comprehension and that sometimes the best response to our trials and tribulations is just to go into his arms like little children.

Which, of course, is exactly what Jesus is saying to us in the second part of our Gospel reading today.

Jesus was giving some grown-up teaching about marriage and adultery and whilst this serious stuff was going on people kept bringing their children to Jesus so that he could bless them through his touch.

This must have been quite the distraction as we are told that the disciples ‘spoke sternly’ to the parents.  I would love to know what they said:

Will you please stop bringing your children to Jesus!”

But Jesus didn’t just stop his disciples from talking sternly to the parents, we are told that he was ‘indignant’ with them. 

There was no soft-focus pastiche going on here – we have pushy parents, stern disciples and even an indignant Jesus.  And, in the middle of it all, the children who have little understanding of what is happening.

What does Jesus do?

He said: “…whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he blessed the children.

We are not called to understand the inner workings of God’s mind – we were not present when the stars were flung into space any more than Job was.

We are not called to blame ourselves when bad things happen and to believe that we have somehow fallen out of favour with God – we may be upright and blameless but still experience a sword in our soul.

We are called to something which may be both harder but also more liberating and joyful.  To become like little children in our simple love and trust of God.  To allow Jesus to bless us despite everything and to enter the kingdom of God with wonder and thanksgiving for all that there is, and for all that is to come.