Proper 24, Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time – October 21, 2012

Reading 1: Reading 2:Reading 3:Reading 4:
Job 38:1-7, 34-41Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35cHebrews 5:1-10Mark 10:35-45

By Bruce G. Epperly

Job 38:1-7, 34-41

Then God answered through the whirlwind! We continue our journey through Job with a theophany, an auditory encounter in which the Holy One responds to Job’s indictment.

God gives no justification for the sufferings Job has experienced. Instead, God becomes inquisitor, basically inquiring of the mortal “Where were you when I created the universe and all living things?” God’s work is beyond comprehension, and apparently God doesn’t need to justify anything before a mere mortal, whose life on this earth is no more than the flickering of a firefly on a summer’s evening.

God’s revelation in the Book of Job can be seen as an affirmation of power or wisdom, or both together. “Mortal, be silent, you are a tiny speck in the universe? You couldn’t have created this? This world reflects my power and creativity?” Or, “Listen! See how wonderful the universe is. Rejoice in the fact of life, whatever comes your way. It’s all part of the tapestry of divine wisdom. Give thanks for the wisdom that brought forth the stars and planets and the intricacy of your own life.”

Love is not an issue in God’s declaration to Job. Thomas Oord reminds us that theologians have often chosen power over love as God’s defining characteristic and relationship to the world. “What if” love and not power had been the motivation of God’s message through the whirlwind. Of course had love been God’s way with the universe and mortals, Job would never have been the object of a contest between God and the Inquisitor Satan. Love does not objectify, nor does it seek to win an argument at the expense of others’ well-being. Still, this theophany might have gone in a different direction had love been God’s primary characteristic – along with wisdom – in the creative process.

Perhaps, God would have said: “I didn’t create the rule book you follow. There is no absolute calculation of acts and consequences. I don’t choose to differentiate between the righteous and unrighteous. In the order of things, what we do matters and what happened to you matters to me. I mourned the death of your children; I sat beside you in the trash heap; I sought to comfort you with a quiet presence in your misery; and I sought to soothe your wife’s pain. My love surrounds you, but I can’t guarantee life will always be easy. Things happen that I cannot fully control and that I would not have chosen. I loved your children; I would never kill them, but I was with them when they died, giving comfort and care.”

Love sustains the universe. Its power is immense. No one can accuse the God of process and open and relational theologies of being weak. The doctrine of omnipotence (all-power is God’s) doesn’t ensure power that heals or transforms. Without love, omnipotence is arbitrary and brings suffering as well as joy. But, the love that wisely brought forth a universe beyond our imagination, patiently worked with the evolutionary process, and moves through each moment of experience in a universe whose galaxies are beyond our ability to measure, has power enough to respond creatively and compassionately to the needs of every creature in our multi-faceted, multi-causal universe.

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

As Gerard Manley Hopkins proclaims, “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” That is the theme of Psalm 104. Yet, we often deface divine beauty, Hopkins asserts. Still, God does not give up on us, for:

the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

God sustains the world through the power of love and visions of possibility. God’s reply in the Book of Job and Psalm 124 can be read as revelations of a loving wisdom that creates in and through everything, bringing forth beauty and comforting the afflicted in an open-ended, open-system, and open-future universe.

Hebrews 5:1-10

The reading from Hebrews describes an intimate, sacrificial, and suffering God. There is the hint of an early atonement theory here, but this at-one-ment and unity of God and wayward humanity is not predestined nor does it require Christ’s punishment on our behalf but a reflection of God/Christ’s solidarity with creation. God’s suffering is redemptive because it chosen for the well-being of the universe.

Sacrifice is built into the nature of relationship: just ask any spouse at the bedside of a dying partner or a parent who goes to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription in the middle of the night!

If suffering is a reflection of love’s decision-making, then we don’t need to worry about Girardian critiques. We need to see the nature of loving power in new ways. One of my teachers, Bernard Loomer spoke of two kinds of power: unilateral and relational. Unilateral power gets its way, regardless of its impact on others. Others are mere objects – like Job in the argument between God and Satan – whose deepest concerns of are no consequence. Relational power honors subjectivity. It listens and responds, and takes on the suffering it may indirectly cause in the quest for the good of the whole as well as the parts. Relational power inspires Christ to suffer that we might be healed.

Mark 10:35-45

In the reading from Mark, the Zebeedee boys are jockeying for unilateral power. They have separated themselves from the other disciples in their quest to become leaders. They don’t realize that Jesus has redefined the nature of power in his ministry and in the ministry of his followers. Those who follow Jesus must be prepared to walk humbly and to sacrifice egocentrism to embrace God’s large vision. There may be suffering in such sacrificial living, but there also will be peace, born of transcending the small self to identify with the healing of the world.

Today’s readings invite us to ponder power that heals. In this election year, are we looking solely at policies that benefit us and the wealthiest 1%? Is our foreign policy unilateral or relational, recognizing that power must still be utilized to protect our land from its enemies? Are we willing to let go of some of our prerogatives for the sake of a greater planetary good? In the body of Christ, health embraces the whole being, not just a part. The healthy functioning of each part – in human life, the affirmation and support of each part in realizing its abilities for the whole – is our goal. Interdependence in the body, church, and world calls us to consider new forms of power that shape the experiences of others and influence the future of the Earth, in light of long-term values of sustainability, compassion, and affirmation.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the PerplexedHoly Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He is currently serving as Visiting Professor of Process Studies at ClaremontSchool of Theology and ClaremontLincolnUniversity. Contact him by email for lectures, workshops, and retreats.