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Come unto me!

Updated: May 12, 2023

In life some questions cut right to the heart of the matter. They go to the core of just who we are what we know of God, and what we can expect of one another. The passages that we read this week deal with issues that go to the heart of what it means to be human and what it means to be God.

The Book of Job, a combination of prose and poetry, explores the question of whether or not human beings are able to remain faithful in the face of incredible suffering. This perennial question was particularly important in the 5th century BC after the return from Exile, the time many scholars think the Book was formed.

The introduction to Job, which we read today, is told as a folktale. " Once upon a time," there was a man named Job, wealthy, gifted with many children and blameless before God. When the heavenly beings gather before God, God hears the report of Satan about what is happening on earth.

The figure of Satan (meaning the Accuser) is one of God's heavenly agents who function rather like a spy on earth. When God points out Job's righteousness to Satan, God's delight is challenged. Job is blameless, Satan says this is only because Job has all he needs. Take that away and you take away his faithfulness. God accepts Satan's challenge and gives Job over to the Accuser's power. Soon he is stripped of his children, his wealth and his health. "Do you still persist in your integrity?" asks his wife. The question is key to understanding Job's and God's, trial.

For it is not only Job who is tested in this story. God's faith that human beings can live justly and with integrity, whether or not they are rewarded with good things is also on trial. The Accuser is both testing God and humanity. Like Job we all have our times of trial when we feel everything in the world is conspiring against us, when our pains seem unbearable. It is then that we are called to be faithful through prayer and service to others, who suffer, even as we suffer.

"Vindicate me, 0 God, for I have walked in my integrity" could well be the cry of Job. It is the plea of all that believe themselves unjustly accused and seek fair judgment. This prayer is set in the sanctuary, perhaps for those seeking entry to worship or for those seeking refuge from accusers. Underlying the words is the conviction that God gives just judgment to those who seek it. It is our cry for vindication in our time of trial.

The letter to the Hebrews, introduced this week, is more of an essay than a letter. It is an anonymous work, and someone well versed in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures) wrote it. It was written for a community of Jewish Christians suffering persecutions. Clement of Rome (c.90AD) made reference to Hebrews, which suggests that it may have been written to Greek-speaking believers there.

Much of Hebrews is a metaphorical explanation of Jesus' character, placed within the Jewish framework. Today's reading sees Jesus like 'wisdom', as an 'imprint of God's being', as 'One who speaks not simply as a prophet or a teacher, but with God's authority' and as 'One who is suffering within this transformative process'. If it is extraordinary (as the psalm says) that God should create the whole world and give it into the care of beings like us, it is even more extraordinary that God should redeem the world through Jesus 'suffering. Suffering is an odd tool to affect this kind of transformation.

Yet we can legitimately call ourselves brothers and sisters of Jesus, for through His sacrifice, we are welcomed into God's Family. This transformation is God's response to our cry for vindication during our times of trial.

By his Passion, Jesus will unite all people by faith in the virtue of his precious Blood that was spread for all the sins of the men and women of all ages. The Passion of Jesus is the place of unity and communion; the Lord himself thought so when he was arrested like a common criminal. It was the prayer of Jesus the day before of his Passion; there is no doubt that he thought then to this word which he had said little before: "What God has joined together, let not man put asunder."

In today's reading, the Pharisees come to Jesus with a question about the legality of divorce. 'We' will get him this time,' they thought. 'Teacher,' they asked, chuckling behind their hands, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?" It was a trick question because everyone knew Mosaic Law allowed a man to divorce his wife. Under Roman law a woman could also initiate divorce. Legality was not an issue. The issue was the ease with which men (and particularly powerful men) divorced.

Women who had been divorced were frequently reduced to poverty. As well, John the Baptist had been imprisoned for his criticism of King Herod Antipas' divorce of his wife to marry his brother's former wife. (She had used Roman law to divorce Herod's brother.) Criticism of Herod might also land Jesus in jail. Jesus chastises the Pharisees for their "hardness of heart" that looks not on God's original purpose of marriage but rather to circumvent it.

Jesus focuses on fulfilling God's purpose in our most intimate relationships. His point is that no one should take divorce lightly. God's dream is that each couple be divinely joined, together with God as the "third partner" in the marriage, and that all who witness this Divine Union respect and uphold the couple's commitment to each other, so much that no one would dare to separate them.

Jesus further emphasizes fulfilling God's purpose to children. Children at this time in history had no rights or privileges of their own and were merely created beings that looked to others to have their needs met. Jesus, however, regarded such open dependence on God as foundational to God's reign. So, when the disciples prevented the children from coming to Jesus, he chastised them. He was indignant and as we read in Saint Matthew 19:14, Jesus tells them, "Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me; for such is the kingdom of heaven." Jesus then takes the children into his arms and blesses them. " His blessing of the children was obviously an action of complete incorporation into the community of faith and a sign to us of the broadness of inclusion into the community.

"Come unto me", Jesus says. In our pain, as we cry out for mercy and justice, let us recognize that we not only share the death of Jesus, but we also share in his resurrection (If we choose to accept it). Indeed, we have a share in the Heavenly Banquet. Our Joy is God's joy and God's joy is our joy. This is the Creator's intention.

In our daily lives, we are encouraged to invite everyone to be part of our Christian Journey. It is up to us to do what we can to make sure that all people are able to take part in God's Kingdom. Again and again, Jesus taught about God's love for them, about God's desire for men, women, and children to live without fear, and especially God's desire that they become lamps through which Divine Love might shed light everyone.

Brothers and Sisters, always remember that we are redeemed and washed clean by the Love of God through Christ, by the face of God through Christ in one another, and by the Grace of God through Christ's Holy Spirit; that gifts us with a new life, with new possibilities, and with new hopes. And just how much does God love us? It is through these very human and often very flawed connections, that we begin to understand the depth of our relationship with God. God loves us because we are flawed and made perfect through Christ. Jesus is God's promise.

We are invited to see in the promise we make to one another as Christians, a reflection of the promise God makes to us. If we embrace that promise, we can come unto Him, and reclaim His dreams for us, reclaim the unique image of God in which each of us is created, and allow ourselves to be healed, we can once again become the lamps through which the love of Christ is made known in the world.

For Morning Prayer on the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost

Published on October 8th, 2000 {Revised on September 19th, 2021}

© Dr. Charles Warner 2022

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