Job 42:1-6, 10-17
Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22)
What makes for a powerful encounter with God? Our scripture readings today are chock full of them. Power filled life-altering encounters with God. Do you long to experience that kind of power? Or does that seem silly? Does that seem like the sort fantasy not worthy of serious, intelligent people. I’ll confess, I find myself mixed with awe and wonder, as well as doubt and a fear of disappointment. And I wonder what this does when and if I approach God in prayer. Job and Bartimaeus experienced the power God in dramatic ways and their stories are preserved for people of faith to make their own. What can we make of them?
Most people have the general idea of the parable of Job from Hebrew Wisdom literature. God enters into a little wager with Satan who thinks people only worship God when they have nice things, so Job gets caught in the crosshairs and God allows Satan to slowly strip away all comfort and joy from Job. But, Job doesn’t give up, God wins, and replaces everything that Job lost and more. It sounds nice when you tell the story quickly and skip to the end. But it robs us of the place where our lived experience tends to dwell, in that place where things are unfinished, painful, and confusing.
The autumn of my 4th grade year I had the sudden desire, much to the surprise of my parents, to play football. I say my parents were surprised because I had never even shown the slightest interest in watching a football game much less playing football. Maybe it had more to do with the fact that my friends were not around to hang out with after to school because they were at football practice, after which they’d come home to eat supper with their families before doing their studies and going to bed. Whatever the reason, I remember begging my folks to let me play, even against their counsel. Finally, my Dad said to me, “If we let you play, you’re in until the banquet at the end of the season.” I was overjoyed and after I had agreed to the stipulation, we were off to pay the fee, get weighed in, and get my football pads.
Now, it only took one practice of getting hit and knocked into the dirt for me to appreciate my parents’ wisdom, and I came home and told them as much. My father graciously thanked me before reiterating, to my dismay, that I would play Center for the East Pee Wee football team until the banquet. Even a trip to the ER to treat a laceration to the elbow which required stitches did not change his mind. The solution: elbow pads. I played through the season and you may be surprised to know that I did not get MVP nor most improved; just a participation trophy and a scar on my elbow. This story came to mind when praying with our lesson from Ecclesiasticus: My child, when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for testing. Set you hear right and be steadfast, and do not be impetuous in time of calamity. Cling to him and do not depart, so that your last days may be prosperous. Accept whatever befalls you, and in times of humiliation be patient. For gold is tested in the fire, and those found acceptable in the furnace of humiliation. Trust in him, and he will help you; make your ways straight, and hope in him.
(Also cf. Mt. 15:21-28)s
Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus and a woman whose little daughter was afflicted with an unclean spirit. The woman was a Gentile of Syrophoenician origin. This story occurs in only two of the Gospels, the Gospel According to Mark, which we heard this morning, and that of Matthew.
I have been praying with these two versions of that story for several weeks, since I was asked to preach on this lesson.