... Ecclesiastes 2:26 ...
Cast your bread upon the waters,
for you will find it after many days.

Pentecost 22 Year B
Message October 28, 2012

Belief vs. Faith: Stories of True Sight

Text: Job 42:1-6,10-17; Psalm 34:1-8(19-22); Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 10:46-52

After today’s readings there may be some who will want to take issue with the past few weeks where there had been a definite argument against a theology of retributive justice. Just when the scriptures seem to be debunking a notion of a God who rewards righteousness and punishes vice, we hear four accounts of reward to those who believe. But such is not the case. The reward seems instead to be to those who have faith. Faith and belief are not necessarily synonymous terms as the story of Job aptly points out.

In the final chapter of the book of Job we find Job seeming to do just as his friends Eliphaz Bildad and Zophar had been urging all along. “Confess you are wrong – repent of whatever sins you have committed knowingly or unknowingly and your fortunes will be restored.” And lo in verse 6 Job is saying, “therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” And shortly thereafter God gives to Job a double measure of good fortune. But all is not as it first appears. The intervening passages between last week’s lesson and today’s is an overview of God’s cosmic battle with the elements of evil and the issues of which Job has heretofore had no knowledge. As God reveals a small aspect of the elements with which God contends, Job’s eyes are opened.

Up til this point Job has acted on tradition and belief. The belief system of the people that he himself had taught was that ‘do good and God will reward – do bad and God will punish.’ This is the very promise that Job’s friends still operated by and which formed the basis of all their arguments with Job. Job on the other hand had experienced horrible suffering losing everything he had had. Yet he knew he had not done anything wrong. His belief system and his situation were at odds and the only way to reconcile matters was to face God and have it out. For 37 chapters we have watched and heard this man of strong belief and conviction hang on to those elements and at long last has his wish fulfilled as God speaks to him out of the whirlwind. However, instead of Job having at God for God’s apparent unconcern for Job’s plight, God questions Job as to Job’s understanding and wisdom and then proceeds to lay before Job a small inkling of what Creation requires and the struggle with the evil one which none but God can wage. In that vision put before him Job is transformed. He finally comes to realize that it has never been about his having or not having sinned. It is about his lack of understanding and lack of faith. In his belief system God was merely an agent of human behaviour who would simply reward good and punish wrong.

Finally Job has seen the light. Upto this point his main obsession has been to prove his innocence and making sense of a belief system about God and God’s function which had apparently met with a scenario Job couldn’t assimilate. His confession in verse 6 is a confession of one who has seen the error of his beliefs, the arrogance of this thinking and the appreciation of the chasm that exists between Creator and creature. Job’s transformation is one from belief to faith. And in that new found faith Job is a changed man. He no longer seeks justice; he no longer asks to have his fortunes restored. He has glimpsed the Almighty, he has peeked at the cosmic reality and he has learned the truth. God cannot be put in the box of human comprehension. Our job is to have faith!

That is not to say we are never to question God or to express our angst and fears, our ignorance and displeasure. In fact Job was praised for his questioning. Compare his friends who maintained their steadfast belief in the quid pro quo theology which even in the beginning Job had taught. They had been the epitome of unquestioned acceptance of tradition and traditional understanding of God. But in his questioning that belief system Job came to a faith which put his own existence in a proper perspective. From that point on Job was able to abandon his own self-absorption and pray for others, even for his friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar. It was only after Job had come to be more concerned for others that God restored his fortunes. In looking at the text the idea of retributive justice is not to be seen as the happy ending or the take away lesson. In fact if there is a lesson in the restored fortunes it is that God’s grace and mercy are still in the world but might never be linked to human actions.

Both the Psalm and Epistle readings seem to agree on this point as they point out the vast difference between mere mortals and the Creator. We can but marvel at the words and workings of God handiworks and live in faith.

Finally the Gospel story of Bartimaeus parallels in a small measure the story of Job. Blind and begging Bartimaeus hearing of Jesus’ nearness cries out for mercy. His friends urge him to be quiet, but the more they urge the more insistent he becomes. What we need to remember here is that the thought of the day, like the thought in Job’s friends was that one was inflicted with disease as a function of sin. You might recall the questions posed by the disciples to Jesus at another healing – by whose sin is he blind – his own or his parents. Those around Bartimaeus see him as sinful and so he has been inflicted by blindness. Yet Bartimaeus is one of faith, and in his faith he asks for mercy. Jesus the agent of God’s mercy hears Bartimaeus and in grace grants Bartimaeus his wish – to have sight, stating, “your faith has made you well.”

And as Job becomes the foil over against his three friends, Bartimaeus becomes the foil over against the rich man seeking eternal life, and in fact the disciples themselves. The rich man, unwilling to part with his riches can never be a disciples or inheritor of eternal life even though he had kept all the Law. But Bartimaeus willingly gave up his only possession (his coat) so that he might receive the gift of sight and experience God’s mercy. Bartimaeus also represents a dramatic contrast to the disciples who have continually misunderstood Jesus and their mission. Their concern had been to vie to see who would be the greatest or occupy the position of honour rather than see in Jesus the bringer of God’s mercy. Bartimaeus though blind saw perfectly well who Jesus was: The insiders, the ones who should have known are the ones who were truly blind. They like Eliphaz Bildad and Zophar had been acting on belief and a traditional belief system. They needed to be moved to a system of faith_ a journey which Mark points out is not always easy, especially for those inside.

Belief and faith may indeed at times seem to be the same but as the stories of Job and Bartimaeus point out they can be far apart. The challenge for each of us and for all who follow – are we believers or faith filled followers?

Amen