“What do we know?”
November 10, 2013
Job 19:23-27a and Luke 20:27-38
A few years back, when my son got a smart phone, he came upon an ap that he found absolutely riveting. It was called “Fun Facts.” Do any of you know it? I downloaded it for myself this past week just to refresh my memory as to how it works. It is really rather basic, a random fact written in bold print over a beautiful mountain backdrop. Swipe the screen and another fact appears.
But it was manna from heaven for my son. He just ate it up. Ever since he was little always had a deep need to be “in the know.” And a deep need to be sure that the rest of us were “in the know” as well.
And so whenever anyone of us was within ear shot he would proclaim: “Did you know…” and then go on to give us the latest fact. “Did you know”, he would say that “In any given moment there is an average of 61,000 people airborne over the United States?” “Did you know,” he would say “it takes a lobster approximately seven years to grow to be one pound?” (is that true Robert?) “Did you know, that once a human reaches the age of 35 he/she will start losing approximately 7,000 brain cells a day and the cells will never be replaced?”
On and on he would go and most of the time I would let him, but sometimes something so extraordinary and unbelievable would come out of his mouth that I just had to interrupt him saying: “What? That cannot possibly be true!”
And so you see, I can sympathize with the Sadducees who interrupted Jesus that day with their question. For during the last many months, Jesus had been proclaiming the most extraordinary things to anyone within earshot. “Did you know,” he said “blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5); “Did you know”, he said, you are to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44); “Did you know,” he said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
Briefly way of background, the Sadducees together with the Pharisees were the Jewish leaders during the time of Jesus. The Sadducees tended to be wealthy and hold positions of power, like being chief priest of the temple. They held the majority of the seats in the ruling Council called the Sanhedrin and worked to preserve the Jewish identity while working hard to keep the peace with occupying power of the Roman Empire. And interestingly, they unlike the Pharisees did not believe in any spiritual dimension outside of the concrete physical realm of flesh and blood.
And so what Jesus is saying about eternal life with God is so outside their experience that they cannot help but shout out a “What?” “That cannot possibly be true!” They cannot help but try to test the validity of Jesus’ claim.
They set out asking Jesus this complicated question based on the law of having a living brothers step take in the wife of a brother that has died and how all of this will work out in this eternal life that Jesus envisions. But Jesus is un-phased by their argument and basically tells them they are seeing it all wrong.
Their exchange reminds me of the Gospel of John’s account of that conversation between the Pharisee Nicodemus where Jesus tells Nicodemus “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” And then poor Nicodemus replies “How can anyone be born after grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?”
The Sadducces in the story for today and Nicodemus in my example are stuck in seeing only on the surface of things but Jesus is inviting them and us all into a deeper way of knowing. A knowing that is birthed not out of certainty but out of wondering, and searching, out of doubt and despair even. A knowing that arises not when we project what we know to be true onto God but when we enter our unknowning and discover a wisdom there that I believe, is the touch of God.
It is this deeper sense of knowing that is birthed in Job in the passage from today. Job is caught up in an extremely difficult situation that becomes the crucible out of with a deep sense of knowing arises. And it is this deep sense of knowing that not only opens a way out for him but that ultimately brings him face to face with God.
The book of Job tells the tale of a righteous and prosperous man named Job whose life gets tangled up in a wager between Satan (who is not the horned, pointed tailed demon of Milton’s Paradise Lost) but is instead in this much earlier version of himself, Satan is an angel in the heavenly court whose special function is to “audit human virtue.” The tale opens with a scene where God pointing Job out to Satan, says “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.”(Job 1:8) Satan retorts that the only reason Job is so good and righteous is because everything is going well for him. And then presses God further by questioning what would happen if things were not going well. Do you think Job would still love you then? And so begins the testing of Job. By the end of the first chapter everything Job had and was is taken from him. The rest of this rather lengthy book is then filled with Job trying to make sense of what has happened to him.
Now for many of us what we know about Job is that adage we use when we want to underscore how amazingly patient someone is we say “He/she has the patience of Job.” But in truth, Job is not patient at all. He wants to get to the bottom of it, of what has happened to him. He will not rest until he has found some solid ground to stand on. His three friends that come to offer him support by sharing with them what they know about how things work. They tell him that if he has lost everything then he must have done something wrong.
But Job knows that is not true. He has done nothing wrong. He keeps throwing off their explanations and goes deeper and deeper until he hits bedrock in the verses Larry read for us today. Job may not fully understand how why his life is in shambles but he knows that his Redeemer lives. And that is a deep unshakable place upon which he can stand.
And in standing in that place of deep knowing, a remarkable thing happens. Hope arises.
Cynthia Bourgeault, Episcopal Priest and author writes “Nowhere in all of literature is there such a triumphant statement of mystical hope. Certainly Job’s hope is not pinned to outcome, when his whole life has collapses and even God seems to stand against him. And yet louder and louder it sings in his soul, as if the singing itself were the hope; as if the song had been there from before the foundations of the earth.”
“O that my words were written down! O that they were inscribed in a book! O that with an iron pen and with lead they were engraved on a rock forever! For I know that my Redeemer lives, and that at the last he will stand upon the earth; and after my skin has been thus destroyed, then in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see on my side, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
This past week, I had the privilege of speaking with a gentleman who had gone through a lot. The life he thought he was going to have was not the one that actually unfolded and for many years he struggled with what he perceived to be his failings. But this week as we were talking, I noticed a shift in him and asked him about it. And he said that yes indeed, he has found a place to stand. He is not perfect and his life is not perfect, he told me, but that is OK. Then turning to me with a grin, he said “and you know what, I actually kind of like who I am and this life of mine, well it’s actually pretty good.”
And so I ask you, what is it that you know? What is that solid ground of deep knowing on which you can stand?
May we discover together and for ourselves what Job found that day – a deep knowing, a certainty and solidity found not on the surface of things, not in an ap even, but through the courage to go deeper through doubt, uncertainty and even despair until we are able to touch something Holy, something of God. And when we do may we like Job feel hope rising, lifting us and carrying us out into life, life with each other and with our God. Thanks be to God, Amen!