Based on Job 2:1-10, Hebrews 2:5-12, Mark 10:2-16
I want you to take a moment and think back to your childhood. The specific moment I’d like you to focus on is the feelings you experienced the very first time you were invited to a party by a good friend. Ok, keep that memory in place while I tell you a story. A long time ago there was a young person who received an invitation to a birthday party. It was the first one she had ever received and she was invited by her very best friend ever – she really couldn’t wait. She put the invitation on the bulletin board in her room…it was all she could think of or talk about.
The big day came and unfortunately it was snowing hard with a stiff wind blowing. Her mom and dad told her that it didn’t look good for going to the party that day. Well, as you can imagine, she was crushed. However, the friend’s mother called to say that if she could make it the party was still on. It wasn’t far down the street to her friend’s house, so she got all bundled up and grabbed the gift in her mittened hands. Off she went through the snow storm to her friend’s house. When she arrived at the door, she happened to turn around and look behind her. There was her mother walking back to their house. You see, unbeknownst to the little girl, her mom had bundeled up as well and followed behind her to make sure she made it safely to the party.
We’re spending time today on the subject of “hesed”. Hesed is the Hebrew word that is most closely translated to English as “loyal love”, but most often translated in our Bibles as “mercy”, “steadfast love”, “faithfulness”, and “kindness”. It is the hallmark of God who King David prayed to in Psalm 51 saying, “…Have mercy on me. O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions….” Our scriptures today speak in different ways about steadfast love both God’s and ours. Let’s go to God in prayer and thankfulness that God’s love is always near; won’t you join me?…
Jesus is teaching about steadfast and faithful love through two different scenarios. The first teaching is given in response to a question about divorce. Jesus retort is that Father Abraham wrote a commandment covering divorce because of the hard heartedness of humans, not because it was something that God intended. We understand that things can happen between two married people; but God’s view is one of a steadfast and faithful love. Jesus’ teaching is that if we loved each other in the same way, we wouldn’t need a divorce commandment. With regard to the second case, we are to love fully, faithfully and unconditionally as a child does and in this way be welcomed into the kingdom of God.
The Letter to the Hebrews was written as a sermon and sent out as a letter – possibly to Roman Christians a short time before the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE. The community it was written to had been under persecution and would continue to receive such treatment from a succession of Emperors. Thus, they needed to be reminded of why the steadfast love and faithfulness exemplified by Jesus was superior to returning to their former Jewish faith. The writer interprets Hebrew Bible citations in light of the witness of Jesus. In our reading for today, he takes an excerpt from Psalm 8 and indicates how it applies to Jesus as well as all the rest of us. Verse 9 also lauds Jesus for his steadfast and faithful love, his hesed, which led him to the cross to offer us all salvation.
We will be spending the four Sundays of October in the Book of Job. One of the three Wisdom texts in the Hebrew Bible, it is possibly the most revered and most challenging of all of the books of the Bible. It calls into question many if not most of our preconceived notions about God and how God is in relation to us. For those who might not be familiar with this Book, the basic plot is that Job is “blameless and upright” and has received great blessings in his life. All this is taken from him due to a bet between God and ha-satan (which means “the accuser” or “obstacle”). The bet was about whether Job will curse God when he suffers greatly. God gives ha-satan the go ahead to first remove all that Job loves, and then to visit him with terrible sores from head to toe. Job sits in verse 8 of Chapter 2, scraping his wounds on the ash heap that was his house. How did Job respond to these calamities? The Bible says, “…Then Job arose, tore his robe, shaved his head, and fell on the ground and worshipped….”
There are no easy answers in Job for why God entered into a bet with his underling, how this fits our theology and God’s hesed, or whether or not God ever apologizes to Job for all the suffering that was endured. No, there are no easy answers here to why bad things had to happen to this very good believer in God – or to us. What we will see, over the course of October, is that Job’s faith is built on hesed – his love is steadfast and it is faithful; even in his challenging questions for God.
It is safe to state here that all of us have suffered to some degree in our lives, because there is really no way to live life without encountering some suffering. Yet, there are few people who I have met over my 56 years of life who have shown me the hesed of Job. I mean really, who could find the wherewithal to have everything they had worked their whole life destroyed, their health in ruin, and then fall down and worship God in response? Boggles the mind and challenges the depth of one’s faith, doesn’t it?
However, Job’s faith is the type of faith toward which we are to grow. God so trusted in Job’s deep faith that God knew Job would not crumble under the weight of losing everything; and being subjected to the torment of his friends. When God shows up as an answer to Job asking for a face-to-face meeting, and doesn’t answer Job’s questions, still the human doesn’t tell God to take God’s hesed and move on. No, Job has faith enough to state, “…Naked came I from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD….”
Jesus showed us this kind of love as he loved God all the way through the Cross – losing everything but his hesed for God and us. It is what we celebrate each time we come to share Holy Communion together. Communion is really all about re-connecting our faith with the abundant love of God, shown in the sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. Jesus came to show us how to live abundantly and well, how to love God with everything we have and to put away our idolatrous love of lesser gods (e.g., wealth, prestige, power, trinkets). No matter where we go or what we have to suffer through, God’s hesed is with us making sure, just like the mother in our opening story, that we get to where we are going safely. We have been so created and graced by God that we might one day grow fully into our God image – that is into God’s hesed. If we can learn to love steadfastly and faithfully, then we will know salvation and God’s kingdom will come at last. Amen and amen!