Monday, August 23, 2010

Conflicts and Troubles

Monday, August 23, 2010 -- Week of Proper 16, Year Two
Martin de Porres, Rosa de Lima, and Toribio de Mogrovejo, Witnesses to the Faith in South America, 1639, 1617, 1606
More about today's commemoration at our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:
http://liturgyandmusic.wordpress.com/category/holy-women-holy-men/

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 981)
Psalms 1, 2, 3 (morning)       4, 7 (evening)
Job 4:1, 5:1-11, 17-21, 26-27
Acts 9:19b-31
John 6:52-59

"...human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward."  (Job 5:7)

Life is difficult.  Conflict seems ubiquitous. 

We hear the words of Eliphaz the Temanite today.  He scolds Job for not behaving better under his suffering.  Eliphaz is certain.  He is certain that God is powerful and just.  He tells Job to stop complaining and to trust God.  God will uphold the righteous and God will punish the wicked.  Eliphaz is certain.  He tells Job to buck up and take his suffering as loving chastisement, as divine discipline that leads to wisdom.  Eliphaz is certain.  God will deliver Job and let him come to a happy "ripe old age." 

One reason Eliphaz is so certain is that he is speaking orthodox words of conventional wisdom, words backed up by a long tradition of scripture and teaching.  He could have made this speech by knitting together scraps of scripture from the wisdom literature, from Proverbs and Psalms.  He's throwing the book at Job, the good book that is.  He's giving Job a good dose of traditional Biblical wisdom.  Maybe you've even heard Eliphaz's words quoted as authoritative Biblical writ -- "human beings are born to trouble just as sparks fly upward." 

But remember.  We're at the beginning of a contentious debate here -- Job verses his friends.  And we know the end of the story.  God will vindicate Job and honor him for his honesty, courage and integrity, even though Job challenges God and challenges the conventional Biblical and theological wisdom.  God will chastise Eliphaz and his companions.  God will not confirm their truths or their certainties, even though their words are grounded in scripture.

We see Paul (Saul) debating today.  He has switched sides.  The one who once pursued Christians in defense of traditional faith is now proclaiming in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God and Messiah.  He used to be certain that Jesus was not.  Now he is certain that Jesus is.  The writer of Acts is pretty impressed with Paul's debate:  "Saul became increasingly more powerful and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Messiah."  But it seems Paul wasn't so convincing to everyone.  In fact, there is a plot to kill him.  His opponents guard the city gates.  But his disciples lower Paul from the city wall in a basket by night so he can make his escape. 

And Jesus stirs up trouble by using intentionally provocative and repulsive language.  He tells the people that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood.  That's nasty.  Especially the blood part.  Observant Jews don't even eat the blood of animals.  When an animal is slaughtered for meat, it is butchered in a conscious way so that the animal's blood is returned to the earth, for its life belongs to God and life is in the blood.  It is not kosher to consume blood.  These words about eating flesh and drinking blood are repulsive and are in violation of the Biblical instructions of the Torah. 

Eliphaz won't convince Job that his conventional Biblical wisdom is sound.  Paul won't convince his fellow Jews that Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus won't convince Jews that it is a good thing to drink his blood. 

But the Gospel of John gives us one clue.  The Gospel of John is an extended admonition against interpreting anything literally.  To interpret Jesus' words literally about eating his flesh and drinking his blood would endorse some form of cannibalism.  That's not what John is doing in this passage.  John is using Eucharistic language.  The flesh and blood of Jesus is the bread and wine of the Eucharist.  Throughout John's gospel literalists always misinterpret the message.

Job and Paul and Jesus continue.  They will live with disputations and troubles for the rest of their lives.  So will we.  

Lowell

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Audio podcast: Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week. Click the following link: Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.


Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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