Job 16 – Do Not Cover My Blood

“Earth, do not cover my blood;
    may my cry never be laid to rest!
19 Even now my witness is in heaven;
    my advocate is on high.
(Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Just like Job’s friends, collectively we have made miserable comforters.  Job says “God has turned me over to evil men and thrown me to the clutches of the wicked.”  He points out the visceral signs of his unjust punishment: “my face is red with weeping, deep shadows ring my eyes, yet my hands have been free of violence, and my prayer pure.”  Even so, his friends stand idly by, offering false piety and thinly veiled scorn instead of truly loving help.  Couldn’t Job’s words be used to condemn us, in the broadest sense of the word, in our apathy towards our fellow man?

I’ve been paying more attention to the news as the corona virus continues to spread, and as I learn to use Twitter better (it’s not my favorite social media but I feel it necessary for the blog…Instagram is my natural habitat).  This renewed awareness reminded me of all the unanswered cries that are still being called out, and I’m ashamed of how little I’ve cared to know.

The rapid spread of the corona virus is a big deal, I’m not trying to make light of it.  But please, do not panic, and do not put your compassion on hold.  A few stats from Johns Hopkins to put things in perspective: As of February 26, 2020, there have been 81,322 cases reported world-wide, with 2,770 deaths (none of which have yet occurred in the US).  The flu, on the other hand, a virus mutation we see pop up every year that hasn’t caused global panic since World War I, has an estimated one billion cases worldwide per year, with up to 646,000 deaths annually, worldwide.  They are sobering statistics, and I truly debated sharing them because it may do more to fan the flames of fear than to calm them.  My hope is that it will remind you, my reader, that we function in a world full of contractible, deadly viruses already.  It is a fact of life that demands more compassion from us, not less-just make sure to wash your hands.

Don’t let the corona virus blind you to the ongoing injustices in the world. A quick run-down of the stories I’ve been following.  And again, there are a lot more that we could get into, but this is what I’ve been able to read about in between the hustle and bustle of daily life with two kids and a farm:

  1. The latest humanitarian crisis in Syria – there is a lot of biased information out there.  Just a simple search on the subject returns not only articles from the BBC, which I generally trust, but also front-page hits from Russian outfits like Sputnik and RT, which I don’t trust as much.  Given our own president’s lukewarm (at best) interest in Syria, it’s not a topic that gets the attention appropriate to the magnitude of the crisis.  As best as I can gather, almost one million people have been recently displaced by fighting in the northern province of Idlib.  It is winter, and people are having to spend nights in below-freezing temperatures without food or shelter.  Children are dying from cold, others are so traumatized they’ve stopped speaking.  Pregnant mothers are under enough stress to cause premature births and miscarriages.
  2. The ongoing border crisis, especially as it pertains to children – Technically, the Trump administration ended its policy of separating families at the border in June 2018.  But over 1,000 families have still been separated since that time, including the heartbreaking case of the parents who were deported, after being promised as part of their deportation deal to be reunited with their four-month-old son, without him.
  3. Wet’suwet’en blockades in Canada – In short, the Wet’suwet’en have been protesting Canada and oil companies seizing unceded lands for pipeline projects.  Part of this protest has taken the form of rail blockades, which are seriously impacting the economic realities of Canada.  It is hard to get truly impartial news on this issue, as well.  It’s receiving very little main-stream media coverage from outside Canada and most Canadian news sources are skewed to favor the Canadian government and Canadian business interests.  I support the Wet’suwet’en people’s right to defend their territory because it is the sovereign right of any country or people to do so when threatened with invasion.  I further support it because they are doing important ecological work in protecting fragile ecosystems from the damages that come with pipelines, including leaks and spills, groundwater contamination, and habitat disturbance.  The IG account of @smogelgem provides a real-time account of what is actually happening, with opportunities to support the protesters whether you live near or far.

We all get compassion fatigue.  We all need to take care of ourselves – you can’t pour from an empty cup, etc etc.  But we can also all try better.  Do a little more.  Especially at a time when the world is facing a global pandemic.  You see, I’m worried that this corona outbreak is going to make people become insular, less willing to reach out and help those in need and more likely to protect their own interests.  This is not the time to be callous.

I try very hard not to ask you to do more than I do, so let me list for you the mini-activisms I did while writing this blogpost.  Actually, before I do, I want to remind you that I do not list this stuff to brag.  I just want to show that you really can do it, too, even if I have to guilt you into it.  I currently have a cold, as does my oldest.  I’m trying to stay on top of laundry and make dinner every night and get insurance for our new commercial kitchen and deal with the leak in my freezer trailer, but I still made time to make a little effort.  If I can do this, then so can you:

I made a small donation to the White Helmets, a boots-on-the-ground organization in Syria dedicated to helping innocent civilians.  I also called my representatives, saying that I think more needs to be done to support Syrian civilians and the work of the White Helmets.  I did my research, and read the stories coming not only out of Syria but from the border, and from Canada. More than anything, I’m talking about it.  Again, I say this not to brag, but to show you what a hassled mom with limited bandwidth can manage.  I may not be able to be out there marching in protests, pulling people from bombed rubble, or providing pro-bono legal council, but I can support those who are.  So now I ask you, can you make a small donation to the White Helmets (the IRC is another good one)? Can you share a #wetsuwetenstrong post on Instagram? Can you call your representatives and tell them that children being held in detention centers at the border is unacceptable?  Together, we can do our part to make sure the cries of the downtrodden are never laid to rest, but answered.

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Job 15 – The Highly Literary Job

“Are you the first man ever born?
    Were you brought forth before the hills?
Do you listen in on God’s council?
    Do you have a monopoly on wisdom?
What do you know that we do not know?
    What insights do you have that we do not have? (Read the rest of the chapter, here.)

Welcome to Lent 2020.  If you’re new to the blog, I started reading Job last Lent, and will continue for this year and the next.  It’s one of the few readings that has been pre-planned on this blog (but, in a lack of time and foresight, not written more than 24-48 hours ahead of time).  I picked Job because it is a book about suffering and patience, a book where Job spends much of his time away from God, being tested by Satan, which seems a good topic for the time of year remembering Jesus’ 40 days in the desert.

I strongly encourage you to go back and read through the first 14 chapters of Job and the corresponding blog posts.  I just did, to refresh myself on what is happening in Job and some of the things I discussed.  I forgot that some of my favorite revelations from last year actually came through Job, such as finding another way to think about Satan, and discovering the term pluralistic ignorance while finding ways to speak out against injustice without having to actually speak.  I was also reminded that Job was a highly stylized book, and just wanted to point some of these literary elements out to you.

First, the overall structure of the book is very symmetrical.  This is easy to lose track of when you’re doing a deep reading of a book, chapter by chapter, but a brief read-through reminded me of that fact.  It starts with a prologue in the divine court, in which Job loses all he has, then there are three speech cycles between Job and his friends, all of which go Eliphaz-Job-Bildad-Job-Zophar-Job, with Zophar’s last speech being replaced by Elihu’s, and then the closing scene brings God back in, restoring Job’s fortune and mirroring the divine court from the beginning.  It also seems very much like a legal trial: God delivers the charge, then stands back and listens impartially to the arguments from both sides (Job and his friends’), allowing for Job and Elihu to make closing statements. God then delivers his verdict.

Second, we can view Job’s friends as literary agents that remind us of what exactly is going on here (Job’s faith is being tested by Satan while God observes) and to goad Job to more and more impassioned speeches. In their false comfort they allude to several things that we know as readers, but that Job does not. This chapter is a perfect example.  “Do you listen in on God’s council?” Eliphaz asks, reminding us that yes, actually, the readers did get to listen in on God’s council.  “What do you know that we do not know?” He asks a line later.  He is, of course, talking to Job, but if we could answer that question, the answer would be a lot. Earlier, Zophar says “Oh, how I wish that God would speak, that he would open his lips against you and disclose to you the secrets of wisdom.”  Well, we know that God is going to do that.  The friends also make several overt court references, reminding the reader that we are essentially witnessing a court case in action.  The word “court” is used by Zophar in 11:10 and Eliphaz in 5:4, and other court-like words (“charge,” “guilt,” “prison”) appear throughout the text.  Every time Job’s friends break that fourth wall, to borrow a term from theater, they draw our attention to the broader drama of the story.

Finally, it is important to remember that the story of Job may date back to as long ago as 2000 BC.  As it was told and re-told, and traveled between different groups, different traditions may have sprung up in its telling.  When it was codified into writing, it is possible that the compilers may have tried to stitch some of those traditions together.  I wonder about this when Elihu suddenly pops up, almost without introduction, to start speaking in chapter 32.  Was he always a fourth companion, and if so, why wasn’t he introduced at the beginning?  Was he sometimes the third companion, replacing Zophar in some of the tellings?  We’ll talk more about Elihu when we get to him, but I just point him out here to remind you of the long and complex history Job has had in its construct.

Which, I suppose inevitably, leads us to the question we all seem driven to ask about the Bible – is it true?  Did Job really exist, and did God really test him? I don’t see why he couldn’t have existed, but I think we miss the larger point.  Job, if he was a real person long, long ago, has grown into a myth larger than himself, like Johnny Appleseed or Paul Bunyan.  Job has become an allegory for our own trials in life, a way to explain the endurance of faith, the justice of God, and the evils that befall innocent people.  I’m looking forward to starting it back up again, much more so than I was when beginning it last year.  I hope you’ll join me in reading it this Lent, and discover the literary prowess, beauty, and greater truths that Job has to reveal to us.

Matthew 27 – Jesus Died for ALL of Us

Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.

When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”

So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.

The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”

11 Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied.

12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor.

15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.

19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.”

20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.

21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.

“Barabbas,” they answered.

22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.

They all answered, “Crucify him!”

23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.

But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”

24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!”

25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!”

26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

32 As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene, named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. 33 They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 34 There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. 35 When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 36 And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.37 Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, KING OF THE JEWS.

38 Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. 39 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue himnow if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

45 From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”

48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[e] went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

57 As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus. 58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.

62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. 63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” 66 So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.

Have you seen the John Fugelsang quote from a few years back (or ones like it) about Jesus?  It says “Jesus was a radical, nonviolent revolutionary who hung around with lepers, hookers, and crooks, wasn’t American and never spoke English; was anti-wealth, anti-death penalty, and anti-public prayer (M 6:5); but was never anti-gay, never mentioned abortion or birth control, never called the poor lazy, never justified torture, never fought for tax cuts for the wealthiest Nazarenes, never asked a leper for a copay, and was a long-haired brown-skinned homeless community organizing anti-slut-shaming Middle Eastern Jew.”

I wanted to point out Jesus’ radical social ideas in contrast to Matthew’s cautious writing style, particularly in this chapter.  I’m not knocking Matthew, he is one savvy dude.  In writing his testimony about Jesus Christ he had to tread extremely carefully:  There was a burgeoning Christian movement that included both Jews and Gentiles.  So, on the one hand, he head to appeal to the Jewish tradition that some of these new Christians came from, hence the lawyer-like reference to the prophets of the Old Testament, using scripture to back up Jesus’ status.  But Matthew also had to appeal to non-Jewish Christians, and be careful not to paint Gentiles, such as the Roman Pontius Pilate, and the society from which they came, in too harsh a light. Remember, Jesus wasn’t just advocating for change within the Jewish community but in the entire world.  So how do you write about a guy who basically wants to overhaul all establishments in a way that appeals to people in those establishments?  Like I said, Matthew had a tough job!  In this chapter, we see Matthew treat Pontius Pilate very carefully, being sure to make it clear Pilate knew Jesus was innocent, recording him literally washing his hands of any responsibility in Jesus’ death.  In fact, many early (and some modern-day) churches held a favorable view of Pontius Pilate, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church even gives them a feast day.  Long story short, I think Matthew was very, very careful when writing his testimony to make sure to appeal to a broad group of readers.

I don’t think Matthew watered down Jesus’ message of radical social justice and love, but I do think it’s easy to sugar-coat Jesus into a “prize” we get to claim if we’re “good,” and sometimes Matthew’s writing can lend itself to that mindset. But Jesus is so much more than that, and wants so much more from us.  Let’s just skim over the Beatitudes from chapter 5 really quickly (which we’ll get to in more detail soon) and see all the people Jesus’ blesses.  First, it’s the people in distress: the poor in spirit – which I take to mean those struggling with any sort of mental or emotional stress, such as depression or anxiety; those who mourn; the meek – those who don’t have agency of their own and are often forgotten by society; those who hunger and thirst.  Second, it’s the people who help them: the merciful; the pure in heart – who can be anyone who loves unconditionally and provides caring service; the peacemakers; the persecuted – not just Christians but anyone bringing attention to the meek, to those who don’t have agency.  To condense, Jesus sees those at the margins of society and is actively calling us to see them too.  There were no conditions to us helping them.  They didn’t have to be Christian, or straight, or white, or sober.

Basically, everyone, and I do mean everyone, deserves their basic human rights.  If you Google “basic human rights” you’ll see lots of lists with five, seven, ten, however many items, and they’re all good lists and may have some things slightly different than this, but just a reminder, here’s a good starting point for basic human rights:

  • Right to equality
  • Freedom from discrimination
  • Right to life, liberty, and personal security (aka freedom from slavery, for a start)
  • Freedom from torture and degrading treatment
  • Right to recognition as a person before the law, and equality before the law
  • Legal rights including fair public hearing, innocent until proven guilty, no arbitrary arrest, etc
  • Right to a Nationality and the freedom to change it
  • Rights of Asylum
  • Freedom of belief and religion
  • Freedom of opinion and information
  • Right to marriage and family
  • Right to own property
  • Right to participate in government
  • Right to social security
  • Right to desirable work
  • Right to rest and leisure
  • Right to education
  • Right to adequate living standards

This doesn’t even include basic rights of life like clean water and clean air, which is a problem not just for third world countries, but in our own “land of the free and home of the brave” (everyone wave to Flint, Michigan).

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember that Jesus died for us.  Let us also remember who “us” is: not just the stable, middle class Christian Americans paying their taxes and mowing their lawns.  “Us” is the homeless, the addicts, the estimated 40 million people who are still in slavery today, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst. In two days, we celebrate Jesus resurrection, and through that, our own possibility for resurrection.  In these last two days of Lent, perhaps we could all recommit ourselves to taking care of each other.  It can be small.  Zen Habits has a lovely list of small ways to help out, which can really be as small as consciously being more patient or calling up a loved one with whom you haven’t spoken in a while.  Compassion breeds compassion.  Through this compassion, through recognizing the basic rights of all our brothers and sisters, we will act as Christ’s agents on Earth, and make it a world to which we would want to return, a world worthy of his return as well.