This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Desmond Tutu refuses seminar with “morally indefensible” Tony Blair
Job 6:1, 7:1-21
Job Replies: My Complaint Is Just
6Then Job answered:
Job: My Suffering Is without End
7‘Do not human beings have a hard service on earth, and are not their days like the days of a labourer?
2 Like a slave who longs for the shadow, and like labourers who look for their wages,
3 so I am allotted months of emptiness, and nights of misery are apportioned to me.
4 When I lie down I say, “When shall I rise?” But the night is long, and I am full of tossing until dawn.
5 My flesh is clothed with worms and dirt; my skin hardens, then breaks out again.
6 My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle, and come to their end without hope.*
7 ‘Remember that my life is a breath; my eye will never again see good.
8 The eye that beholds me will see me no more; while your eyes are upon me, I shall be gone.
9 As the cloud fades and vanishes, so those who go down to Sheol do not come up;
10 they return no more to their houses, nor do their places know them any more.
11 ‘Therefore I will not restrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.
12 Am I the Sea, or the Dragon, that you set a guard over me?
13 When I say, “My bed will comfort me, my couch will ease my complaint”,
14 then you scare me with dreams and terrify me with visions,
15 so that I would choose strangling and death rather than this body.
16 I loathe my life; I would not live for ever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath.
17 What are human beings, that you make so much of them, that you set your mind on them,
18 visit them every morning, test them every moment?
19 Will you not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my spittle?
20 If I sin, what do I do to you, you watcher of humanity? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you?
21 Why do you not pardon my transgression and take away my iniquity?
For now I shall lie in the earth; you will seek me, but I shall not be.’
These are very painful words, reflecting a state of wretchedness which is thankfully beyond my experience. But there will be millions of my fellow human beings today for whom these words are a perfect image of their own condition. If we are not to agree with Job’s assertion that human life is nasty, brutish and short through the will of its creator, then we must recognise that the responsibility for cherishing human life is with humanity. It is our responsibiity and within our powers to make sure that every life is protected, honoured and enhanced, even in illness, even in dying. Job has people who argue within him but none to care for him. The freedom the creator has given to humanity (see blogs 219/220) entails full responsibility for all life on earth.
I’ve heard two wonderful women on radio in the last 24 hours: one, a Greenpeace volunteer, speaking calmly of the need to break unjust laws to demonstrate the need to care for the planet, and of her readiness to go to prison for this witness; and the other, a volunteer medic fom Bristol who had just returned form working in Syria, in a makeshift hospital, caring for those wounded in the civil war. Such people are an inspiration to all and a refutation of Job’s description of human life. He omits from it all reference to human kindness.
We cannot argue with the wretched of the earth if they feel the same as Job; we can only refute their opinion by accepting responsibility for their wretchedness and acting to relieve it, for their honour, our honour and the honour of God.
The Unbelief of Jesus’ Brothers
7After this Jesus went about in Galilee. He did not wish* to go about in Judea because the Jews were looking for an opportunity to kill him.2Now the Jewish festival of Booths* was near.3So his brothers said to him, ‘Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing;4for no one who wants* to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things, show yourself to the world.’5(For not even his brothers believed in him.)6Jesus said to them, ‘My time has not yet come, but your time is always here.7The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil.8Go to the festival yourselves. I am not* going to this festival, for my time has not yet fully come.’9After saying this, he remained in Galilee.<!– 10 –>
Jesus at the Festival of Booths
10 But after his brothers had gone to the festival, then he also went, not publicly but as it were* in secret.11The Jews were looking for him at the festival and saying, ‘Where is he?’12And there was considerable complaining about him among the crowds. While some were saying, ‘He is a good man’, others were saying, ‘No, he is deceiving the crowd.’13Yet no one would speak openly about him for fear of the Jews.
“The world cannot hate you but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil” These words describe a very disturbing fact about Jesus of Nazareth which is evident in all the gospels: that in spite of his undoubted compassion, many people disliked him, because in his actions and words he demanded a holiness that seemed impossible, unrealistic, not down-to-earth. How can a sane man demand of his felow human beings the unworldly standards that Jesus demanded? In John’s vocabulary, the Greek word “kosmos” stands for what humanity has made of the world: a realm closed to the eternal life offered by God.
There are times when Christian faith is popular -although often this involves an accomodation with the “world”- and there are times, as now in Britain, when it seems quite unpopular. Those who have become Christians in a time of popularity are often unready to find that the world hates Jesus Christ, and may hate them also. There is always a temptation for the church to respond to the unpopularity of Jesus by distorting his message and seeking the easy remedy of religious gimmicks or vicious alliances with popular moral crusades. These remedies are a betrayal of Jesus and the saints of every age who have loved his way and made a lonely witness to his truth. Today the church remembers John Bunyan (1628-88) preacher and writer of Pilgrims Progress, of which this is the opening:
“As I walked through the wilderness of this world, I lighted on A certain place where was a Den, and I laid me down in that place to sleep: and, as I slept, I dreamed a dream. I dreamed, and behold, I saw a man clothed with rags, standing in a certain place, with his face from his own house, a book in his hand, and a great burden upon his back. I looked, and saw him open the book, and read therein; and, as he read, he wept, and trembled; and, not being able longer to contain, he brake out with a lamentable cry, saying, What shall I do?
In this plight, therefore, he went home and refrained himself As long as he could, that his wife and children should not perceive his distress; but he could not be silent long, because that his trouble increased. Wherefore at length he brake his mind to his wife and children; and thus he began to talk to them: O my dear wife, said he, and you the children of my bowels, I, your dear friend, am in my self undone by reason of a burden that lieth hard upon me; moreover, I am for certain informed that this our city will be burned with fire from heaven; in which fearful overthrow, both myself, with thee my wife, and you my sweet babes, shall miserably come to ruin, except (the which yet I see not) some way of escape can be found, whereby we may be delivered. At this his relations were sore amazed; not for that they believed that what he had said to them was true, but because they thought that some frenzy distemper had got into his head; therefore, it drawing towards night, and they hoping that sleep might settle his brains, with all haste they got him to bed. But the night was as troublesome to him as the day; wherefore, instead of sleeping, he spent it in sighs and tears. So, when the morning was come, they would know how he did. He told them, Worse and worse: he also set to talking to them again; but they began to be hardened. They also sought to drive away his distemper by harsh and surly carriages to him; sometimes they would deride, sometimes they would chide, and sometimes they would quite neglect him. Wherefore he began to retire himself to his chamber, to pray for and pity them, and also to condole his own misery; he would also walk solitarily in the fields, sometimes reading, and sometimes praying: and thus for some days he spent his time.
Now, I saw, upon a time, when he was walking in the fields, That he was, as he was wont, reading in his book, and greatly distressed in his mind; and, as he read, he burst out, as he had done before, crying, What shall I do to be saved?”
The seriousness of this man is not going to be fobbed off by charismatic ecstasies or smoke and bells or anti-gay marches or prancing presbyterian preachers or awfully nice Christian meditation, but only by the gracious and terrible truths of the One whom the world hates.