Humility is in short order these days. It reminds me of the story about a man who was finally promoted be a Vice President of his employer. Well, that went right to his head, and in a few weeks, you would have thought he had just become the Vice President of the United States of America. This might well have continued for some time had not his wife said: “Listen, sweetheart, I know you’re excited by this promotion but it’s really not that big a deal. These days everyone’s a vice president. Why they even have a vice president of peas down at the supermarket!” Finding this difficult to believe, Bob called the local supermarket and asked: “Can I speak to the Vice President of peas please?” They replied: “Do you wish to speak to the Vice President of fresh peas or frozen peas?” That’s one way to gain humility.
Job’s path toward humility was more difficult. He lost his family, his livelihood, and his home. Sitting in the dust he had to endure a long debate with his supposed friends all of who said that Job was a fault and his distress was a punishment from God. Job rejects their judgment and eventually calls out God asking for justice or at least an explanation.
I think Job and his friends thought they understood God. These men believed in a God defined by a simple dictum: if you obey God you will be and if you don’t you won’t – instead the disobedient will be punished. One problem with this view of God is that it reduces the Almighty to little more than a machine that rewards or punishes people depending on their obedience.
First, God challenges Job directly: God asks Job: “who is this that obscures my council without knowledge?”
Second, God tells Job’s friend, Eliphaz the Temenite: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” God is clearly saying that Job was right, that bad things happen to good people, and therefore bad thing are not always a punishment from God.
This leaves us with a problem: how do we respond to a God who refuses to be limited by our view of him as an angry, judgmental father figure? Remember, Job and his friends thought they had God all figured out and that they knew how to live their lives in safety and security.
All you had to do, they thought, was follow God’s rules and God would shower you with blessings – sort of a prosperity Gospel approach well before the birth of Christ. The problem was Job’s knowledge of God was in the form of ideas and words: intellectually he thought he understood God.
Then he encounters God directly and he hears – perhaps now with his heart – and he is humbled. Job had asked why he was suffering despite following all the rules. God answered by asking Job how he could hope to understand the answer when he couldn’t even get ask the right question. And in that process of talking with God, Job was irrevocably changed, transformed into someone capable of, as the Prophet Micah puts it, walking humbly with our God.
Perhaps the story of Job tells us it is not enough to study and follow the letter of the law as a matter of intellectual principle. Perhaps Job shows us we need to open our hearts and be moved to walk humbly with our God of justice and redemption. And perhaps Job shows us how we should walk humbly with God through 21st century San Francisco. But what is the path for Christians?
In the minds of many, Christianity currently is defined by right-wing politicians masquerading as preachers and televangelists. People like Pat Robertson and Franklin Graham claim to be Christian pastors. But their support of unchristian positions and programs advocated by the current administration makes it clear they are not following Jesus.
You can’t follow Jesus and try to erase Trans people from our society. You can’t follow Jesus, and exclude transgender Americans from the Armed Forces. You can’t be a Christian and encourage violence against Jews or Muslims or gays or women. There are no two ways about it: you can’t follow Jesus and hate.
Jesus is very clear about this: he tells us to love our brothers and sisters; to love those who are different, to love those who are the proverbial Stranger In This Strange Land.
So Jesus calls us to love the single queer parent struggling to make ends meet, the transgender teen trembling in fear of what will happen in school or online the next day, the undocumented worker who fears separation from his family; the Native American who is afraid they won’t be allowed to vote; and even the Trump supporter disfigured by fear. We need to remember this.
We also need to remember that as Christians we are called to bind up the broken-hearted; to care for the sick; clothe the naked; comfort the poor; and provide for those who have too little to survive. The God Job finally encounters is the God of Jesus, the God who calls us to release the captives from the prison whether they are imprisoned by an addiction or a lack of skills or the limitations created by fundamentalist theology. We need to remember this.
We are called to challenge those who in the name of Jesus hurt and hate. We are called, in the words of the Book of Common Prayer, to make no peace with oppression. And we need to remember that opposing oppression doesn’t give us permission to hate those who disagree with us. And we need to remember this.
Perhaps remembering the words of St. Teresa of Avila will help. She said: “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.” That’s how we are called to be a Christian here and now.
St. Teresa’s call for individual action resonates with our closing prayer in today’s Mass when we ask “that we may proclaim your redeeming love to the world and continue forever in the risen life of Christ our Savior.” That is what the God Job encountered asks us to do: to live in the certainty that “Christ has no body now but ours” and then go out into the world proclaim God’s “redeeming love to the world and continue…the risen life of Christ our Savior.” Perhaps that is our path to walk humility with our God. Let us pray.
God of mercy and healing, you who hear the cries of those in need, help us be the hands and feet and arms and legs of Jesus our Savior, so that all who are troubled may know peace, comfort, and courage. May the church assembled say: Amen!