The story of Job and the teaching of Jesus on divorce – these two readings are very difficult to hear and to preach. Hearing them, reading them together allows us to think about these lessons in conversation with each other. Every Sunday, as I prepare my sermons, I look for a theme or a strain of thought that ties them all together. And the theme I hear running through these lessons is commitment. The book of Job has something to teach us about commitment. So does the book of Hebrews and our section of the Gospel of Mark. Commitment.
Biblical scholars aren’t sure when the book of Job was written – but its theme of loss and perseverance in spite of loss makes the book universal. Job reminds us that life isn’t always what we would like it to be – and that God doesn’t prevent awful things from happening to us, even when, like Job, we haven’t done anything to deserve our misery. Job reminds us that suffering is part of what it means to be human.
But Job also teaches us what it means to be committed to God. The test that Satan proposes is meant to prove that Job loves God because of all the good things God has given him. In spite of all that befalls him, Job is faithful, committed to God, unwilling to ‘curse God and die’ as his wife suggests he should do.
Job gets angry – he questions God. There are some marvelous chapters in the Book of Job in which God and Job discuss how big God is and how small humans are: in understanding and in power. As angry as Job gets, though, he does not walk away. A friend of mine, now an Episcopal priest, had fallen away from belief after he left college and began life on his own. He married and had a daughter who died a few days after her birth. It was the death of his daughter that brought him back to faith. When we asked him why that death brought him back to faith instead of driving him farther away – he said that he came back to faith because… he needed to cry out and complain, to shake his fist and yell at God. And if he didn’t believe in God, he would have no one to yell at. That has always made sense to me.
Job gets angry; he questions God. And Job is committed to God and does not turn away. In the end, Job’s good times will return – he will have more children and regain his health and become wealthy again and Satan will no longer accuse God that Job is committed only because he has an easy life.
The book of Hebrews has Jesus as our Great High Priest as its theme. We begin reading it this week and will continue to read portions of it through most of November. The writer of Hebrews tells us that because of the faithfulness, the commitment of Jesus, we have direct access to God. Jesus is the perfect example of what commitment to God looks like – Jesus was committed to God’s plan, even though God’s plan included his own painful death.
If we think about our reading from Mark’s gospel in terms of commitment, we see a little more clearly why Jesus stresses that marriages are meant to last. At its best, marriage allows us to understand God’s love and unconditional acceptance. At its best, marriages allow each partner to love and accept the other unconditionally. For richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, til death do us part – that’s what we promise to each other and that is a reflection of how God is ‘for’ us, how God is committed to us.
Unfortunately, marriages are not always at their best. Because we have hard hearts, because we so often fail in our promises and intentions, divorce has always been part of human relationships. Jesus says that we are called to something different, something more than hardness of heart and failure – we’re called to total commitment to the one we have married, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, til death do us part.
And in Mark’s gospel this teaching about marriage, which was just as hard for those first disciples to hear as it is for us to hear, this teaching is followed by a story about Jesus and children. Children don’t really have a choice in their commitment to the adults in their lives. Children aren’t independent, they can’t make it on their own, they depend on us to take care of them. They know how to receive and they respond with commitment. Jesus says that we are to be like children – depending on God, receiving from God and totally committed.
What would our lives be like if we were 100% committed to God, fully committed to Christ? What would be different? This weekend many churches will celebrate the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi with a Pet Blessing. Francis was born into a wealthy family – one of his hagiographers wrote
Almost up to the twenty-fifth year of his age he squandered and wasted his time miserably. Indeed he outdid all his contemporaries in vanities and he came to be a promoter of evil and was more abundantly zealous for all kinds of foolishness.
After his conversion, Francis did what he could to renounce his evil ways and tried to be as committed to God as he had been to his former life. He not only gave up his partying, he also gave up his inheritance, and all his worldly goods. What Francis found was that the more he gave up, the more he gave away, the more joy he knew, the more love he felt. His commitment to loving God and to loving his neighbors (including all the animals he met) transformed his life and still impacts ours today. We bless the animals in remembrance of St. Francis. We sing his prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love…”
We sing his hymn to Brother Sun and Sister Moon.
Francis was totally committed to God and he changed the world. What about you? What about me? How will we change the world? All that Jesus asks of us is everything. May we be like Job. May we be like St. Francis. Amen.