Reading Ramblings – June 24, 2018

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 24, 2018

Texts: Job 38:1-11; Psalm 124; 2 Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

Context: There are alternate texts available for this Sunday to observe the birth of John the Baptist, but I opted not to follow that line. The texts today lead us to wrestle with the otherness of God. We are not privy to much of what He does, or why and how He does it. At times this can make God seem very distant to us, despite his promises that He is always with us. We want to know more, but God is firm that it is not our position to question. As creations we are not privy to the mind of the Creator, but rather are called to trust in him based on what He has said to us in his Word, and what He has done for us in the Word made flesh, Jesus the Christ.

Job 38:1-11 – Arguably one of the most difficult passages in all of Scripture. After chapter upon chapter of Job’s suffering, we anticipate an encounter with God where Job’s questions are answered, his suffering is explained, and he is given the peace of both a restored life and better understanding of the ways of God. And while he’ll eventually have his health and life restored, he isn’t going to get any further in terms of an explanation from God. Instead, God shows up in power and majesty demanding that Job should answer him, rather than the other way around. Who is Job to make demands for explanation from God? Who is God’s equal to demand anything from him? What makes Job think that he will be able to understand what God would explain to him, even if God decided to do so? Job is only a man. His life a brief wisp in human history. God is eternal and the creator of all things, and owes explanations to no one.

Psalm 124 – A beautiful psalm of praise and thanksgiving to the God who did not prevent tribulation, but rather delivered his people rather unexpectedly in the midst of it. The psalm describes some sort of conflict. Might it be David’s personal conflict with Saul, which God preserved David in the midst of and through? Might it be some larger conflict after David ascended the throne? This is one of the songs of ascent, psalms typically recited by the Israelites on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. It therefore has a corporate sense to it that makes more sense than simply describing the difficulties of David. Some scholars presume that the psalm was authored by someone other than David, at a date following the Babylonian exile, but there is no evidence for this. Perhaps the psalm is deliberately vague, intended not to reflect a specific event, but to be applicable to a variety of situations which, personal or otherwise, could still be a cause for corporate praise to God. The psalm ends with a statement or affirmation of faith and trust in God. His care in the past is ample reason to trust him in the present and the future.

2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Although not strictly intended to work with the Gospel and Old Testament lessons, this section does indeed work with them. Paul commends to the Corinthians behavior he has modeled to them, behavior that seeks to be even-keeled in all situations and circumstances, always with an eye towards giving witness to Jesus Christ to those around him. His intent seems to be to encourage the Corinthians towards greater honesty or generosity with him (vs. 11-13). Paul is giving his all for the Gospel, and wishes the Corinthians to enlarge their participation in this as well, perhaps through ministry gifts for him. The Corinthians who have received the very grace of God through Paul’s preaching (vs.1-2) are encouraged to be equally gracious with Paul.

Mark 4:35-41 – The central tension here is not simply the danger of the disciples, but their shock or dismay or anger that Jesus seems unaware and unconcerned with their danger. Assuming a boat large enough to accommodate all 13 of these men, such fishing boats on the Sea of Galilee today purporting to be similar to the ones of Jesus’ day have benches along the sides and back where people can sit, and perhaps it is here that Jesus is sleeping, up off the main deck where the waves are breaking and beginning to overwhelm the ship. Some scholars point out that the water is often a symbol of chaos or even evil for first century Hebrews. While this may be true, we want to avoid attempts to make this a metaphor rather than an actual event. This is not a theological Q&A session about why Jesus doesn’t stop evil in the world, but rather an actual moment of fear and uncertainty for these experienced fishermen. How can Jesus sleep so soundly when they’re in such danger? How can Jesus be so unconcerned about their welfare?

Interestingly enough, this is not a question the disciples are rumored to have repeated later in their lives, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus. By then, they did not doubt their Savior’s immense love for them even when their situations were dire and deadly. But here, early on in their experiences with Jesus, they are led to wonder whether He really cares for them. Surely the man who can cast out demons and deliver people from illnesses and disease must be able to provide some sort of protection for them in this storm, and yet He hasn’t!

Jesus doesn’t answer their question, but rather eliminates the cause of their fear and doubt. They are left as they began – with him. This is the one constant in the whole scene, is Jesus’ presence with his disciples. And at the end, it is this presence – the presence of one who can still the waves and the winds – that is their new source of fear. It is only after the storm is dealt with that the disciples are said to be afraid. During the storm they could deal with the storm but not with their rabbi’s disinterest. After the storm they have to come to grips with who is among them – no ordinary rabbi to be sure! No simple healer or wise teacher. Here is someone with real and true power beyond anything they can conceive of. The divine presence is oftentimes a cause for fear – as per Job’s response to the Lord’s appearance in Job 40.

We are never to doubt or fear both God the Father’s constant presence and care as well as his good disposition to us through Jesus Christ. While we may not understand why He allows us to endure certain things, we can rest assured that regardless of the outcome we are eternally safe in his hands.

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