Sunday's Scriptures in Context
The Book of Job
The Oxford Companion to the Bible says, "The book of Job is the most consistently theological work in the Hebrew Bible, being nothing but an extended discussion of one theological issue, the question of suffering." The author of Job is unknown, but he was probably a Jew writing to a Jewish audience during the Babylonian exile (sixth century B.C.E.). He quotes from other biblical books and calls God Yahweh.
The book of Job isn't history but rather a meditation on the problem of undeserved suffering. It asks the age-old questions, "Why do the innocent suffer?" "Where is God in my suffering?" "The suffering of the world?" It offers no clear-cut answers, making it one of the most intellectually, and maybe spiritually, challenging books in the Bible.
The book of Job makes certain statements about suffering, God, and the world: Suffering isn't always the result of sin, a widespread belief in ancient times, one which Jesus had to combat during his ministry, and which we are still fighting today. That's the belief voiced by Job's "friends," which the victim himself refuses to accept. Prayer is the proper response to suffering. Prayer is powerful. Prayer can be lament as well as thanksgiving and praise. Job is the only human in the story who ever speaks directly to God. His so-called friends talk about God, but never to God. The "patience of Job" is a misnomer. Job does not hesitate to cry out in anger to God and pour out all his grievances and sadness. Yet, we're told that his is a faithful prayer. We can be authentic selves with God, no matter what. God cares for his creation so much that he gives it freedom. Being given a glimpse of the "big picture," Job chooses to remain faithful to God. "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him" (Job 13:15).
The book of Job is an invitation to encounter and enter into relationship with God, who, through the cross, enters fully into the suffering of that world and redeems it.
Job 19:25-27 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
26 and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
27 whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
The Book of 2 Corinthians
Paul's letters to the Corinthians, which made it into the New Testament canon as 1st and 2nd Corinthians, were written between 53-55 C. E. As stated above, they give us a glimpse of what life was like in a 1st century Greco-Roman city and the challenges faced by the Christians there. The city was ethnically diverse and very sophisticated, a place where a resourceful person, even a former slave, or Freedman, could get ahead. Just as it is in our day, there was a sharp divide between rich and poor, and this was reflected in the membership of the Church. The Corinthian Christians were a contentious bunch, and some of their problems were a result of the socio-economic divide. The "haves" too often gave in to the temptation to exclude the "have nots" and the "have nots" resented it and judged the "haves" accordingly! As he had done in his first epistle (1 Corinthians) and during a personal visit sometime after 1 Corinthians was written - an encounter which had not gone well at all - Paul once again reminds the Corinthians of their responsibility to live the Gospel. Christians are to work for justice and equality and honor the oneness of all believers in the crucified and risen Lord, regardless of gender, race, education, age, or worldly status. The following reading may seem hard to understand, but read Chapters 2:14-3:18 and you'll see that Paul is summarizing arguments he made there. When he says that the Gospel is veiled, he's really saying that the false apostles do not understand the Gospel, because they don't have the Spirit. If they did, they would seek to emulate Christ and make themselves the servants of the Church, as Paul has done, rather than vying to lord it over the community.
How do you approach God? How do you see God reflected in others? How might others see God reflected in you?
The Gospel according to St. Mark
The first of the gospels to be written (c. 70 C.E.) and the shortest, The Gospel according to St. Mark is attributed to the companion of Peter (1 Peter 5:13) or Paul and Barnabas (Acts 12:12, 25; 15:37-39; Colossians 4:10; Tim 4:11). Mark was a common name in the ancient world. Explanations of Jewish words and customs coupled with a poor knowledge of Palestinian geography suggest that Mark was writing for gentiles living outside Palestine. Mark is also the only one of the four gospels to declare itself a “gospel.” (There are no parallels to this precise literary form before early Christianity.) The author assembled various stories that were being told about Jesus and wrote them down. It is structured around Jesus’ baptism, transfiguration, and crucifixion and is meant to create and strengthen faith in Jesus and to develop disciples. Mark focuses our attention on the cross, Rome's "tree of death" that to Christians is the "Tree of Life"(an archetypal image common in past and present, employed by ancient Near Eastern monarchies as a depiction of the power of the monarch), and Jesus' Godly identity realized in his servant life, suffering and death. It is on the cross that he makes God’s kingdom present and experiences his coronation. His disciples, too, find their true meaning in service and even suffering, for the cause of justice and mercy in the world.
In Mark, we receive important information in the first thirteen verses that enables us to understand the rest of the story, information that is hidden from the characters of the story; even the disciples only half comprehend who Jesus really is until the crucifixion: only those with faith can recognize Jesus, receive healing and understand his teachings (those who have eyes to see and ears to hear understand).