We continue our Track One readings from the Book of Job; the Epistle reading from Hebrews; Track Two’s Amos and Mark pairing, and accompanying psalms.
Job endures three rounds of dialogues with his friends, who after sitting seven days in silence at his dilemma, open their mouths. And open them they do. I take the view that the rounds are not static and repetitive rehearsals of set views, but rather initially Job is counselled to rely on his innocence. However, frustrated at his responses to this counsel, they become increasingly hostile and accusatory. Round three, where we find ourselves today, shows the friends sputtering and running out of gas. Zophar, the third friend, has nothing to say at all. Job remains vigorous in his defense and indeed begins appealing to the wisdom the friends had previously extolled but now in his own defense and on his own behalf. Our discourse for today demonstrates his resolution. This is a matter not for sparring with debaters. It has to do with his own flesh and blood standing before God, and with God himself. Job knows this is a matter for God and God alone. We must now wait only a short time for God to speak up, after one last valiant effort from the young, and impatiently so, Elihu.
The choice of Psalm 22 gives good indication of what abandonment by God feels like existentially. The Psalmist never shies away from speaking forth his or her anguish. God is named as the source of this abandonment, but named and addressed he is. It is his ear the psalmist speaks to, and for his hand the psalmist waits, in full vent of pain when that is the fate. As we saw last week in Hebrews’ use of this same psalm, known for its use by the son of God at the moment of his shared experience with the psalmist before him, it is a psalm whose final victorious voice is praise and transmission to brothers and sisters in the great congregation. And this will be Job’s final fate as well, though the journey there will cost him everything. Yes, a mortal can serve God for his own sake. With that Satan is silenced, his false claims defeated, and his hand stayed. The path Job walks the Son of God will walk for each and everyone of us, and for our sakes. The type of Job will find its fuller anti-type and accomplishment, through what Barth called Job’s true witness to Jesus Christ.
This is one of our Sundays where the remarkable fit accomplished by the lectionary choice of OT reading needs to be pointed out. Listen to and read Amos chapter 5 carefully, in conjunction with Mark and the story of the rich man (called young by Luke and a ruler by Matthew, though here is not young but an adult with great estates). Mark’s story cannot help but evoke pity and sympathy for the rich man and the path he refuses to take. He is being asked to give up all in exchange for treasure that will last forever, following the man at whose feet he has thrown himself. And he says no, shocked and distressed, and by some renderings of the Greek verb, angered or bitter at Jesus’ request.
To read Amos as a lens on the passage produces a less ambivalent take on what happens and on the rich man before us. The one who reproves in the gate is Jesus, he is the one who speaks truth – and the reaction is hatred and abhorrence. The charges levelled by Amos are rank disregard for the poor, trampling, stealing, afflicting, appropriating, and by these means acquiring great wealth and houses built of hewn stones. Seek the Lord. Hate evil, love the good—good teacher the rich man says in address to Jesus–establish justice in the gate, it may be that the Lord God will be gracious.
Though coming from a different context, Amos and Mark have measures of possible overlap. Jesus says God alone is good, and though this has been the source of theological discussion in the history of interpretation—in what way is God good but not Jesus?–what we know for sure is that Jesus shows himself here as always his clear, heart-searching and heart-seeing self, just as he is with his disciples and with all those he encounters. He will look at this man and love him. He is the gracious and good Lord God himself in his address to men and women. To call him good apart from this divinely given role and mission needs clarification about the true source of goodness and how Jesus is a teacher whose goodness penetrates into the very recesses of our educational needs and life giving correction.
Another small feature that lines up with Amos and other OT realities. Jesus produces the second table of the decalogue, the first capable of summary as God is Lord alone, God is good. And though “thou shalt not covet” can be taken to spill out and over from illicit desire only and into action, here we have a summary of the last commandment as “thou shall not defraud.” Defraud is dishonesty and illicit desire in action. It is akin to trampling on the poor, afflicting, appropriating and by this means gaining grand estates – in Amos’ language, house of hewn stones with levies of grain and pleasant vineyards.
When Jesus says one thing is missing, his heart-piercing eyes see something so deeply amiss that his love requires its excision. Seek good and not evil, and the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said – when you called me good and in so doing were calling on God himself. The Lord God of hosts is here and is here being gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and of vast love. He looked on him and loved him.
Sadly, the one who ran and threw himself at Jesus feet will just as surely walk away. What is never too much for God—with God all things are possible, Jesus will say in private to his disciples—can all the same be rejected by a heart loaded with rich distractions and great estates.
Our Epistle reading from Hebrews brilliantly reinforces the perspective from Mark and Amos. The word of God—scripture—the word Jesus Christ pierces into the deepest recesses. Like the rich man looked in in love, all are laid bare to the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
And yet because of this piercing is his own act of love, we have a great high priest capable of all things, ready for our approach. Seek the Lord and live, Amos says. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy in time of need.
Job never relinquishes his quest for the God of his own stricken heart. And so he is, as our psalm says, made glad by the number of days he was afflicted, and more so, the years of his suffering adversity.
Teach us to number our days means nothing less than God’s love is always the final number for those who trust in him. The minor notes are numbered and limited. This is what makes the major notes so resplendent in God’s symphony or love and forgiveness for us.