Sunday, 19 October 2014

Job and Bartimaeus: relationships of mutuality between God and humans

This morning I joined Greyfriars Kirk for worship for the second time. This community feels like it has the potential to be home, alongside The Gathering. It may be early to make such a claim, but the feeling is what the feeling is. But this post is not about finding home with any particular faith community. It is about biblical stories and, not surprisingly, mutuality.

The biblical stories we heard in gathered worship this morning were from the conclusion to Job's story of remaining faithful to God in the midst of terrible suffering, and the encounter Jesus has with Bartemaeus, who is blind.

As Richard was leading our reflecting on the stories, it began to occur to me that both stories are examples of human mutuality with God. It's a section of the essay on mutuality I am due to hand in to my supervisor tomorrow that has been feeling a little unfinished. So it was probably bubbling away in my subconscious, ready for the link to be made.

I am wondering if we see the mutuality of God with humans in God's making Godself vulnerable by inviting Job to partner with God in the preserving of God's name?
Do you know the story? Ha Satan - the accuser (also called Satan in English) challenges God that even the most faithful of followers will forsake God, if put to a harsh enough test. God allows Satan / the accuser to put Job to the test. He can take anything and everything, except Job's life. And take everything he does - property, livestock, wealth, sons and daughters, health - it's all taken from Job.

God allows God's good name to be put in the hands of Job, a faithful 'righteous' (following the Way of God) man. It is a risk. Seeking mutuality is risky.* It may not be embraced by the one to whom one extends the gift of trust and self. This contrasts to relationships of reciprocity like those of patron and client in the Greco-Roman world, which have an expectation almost legalistic in nature that in giving a gift (of money or property) one will receive something in return. God offers the gift of participation in God's name through the faithfulness of Job with hope (not expectation) that Job will accept the invitation and enter into the mutual vulnerability that will strengthen them both through the fulfilling of wellbeing for each.

Job does embrace this invitation into mutual wellbeing. Job does not forsake God, but remains faithful in a way that has been - as Richard observed this morning - misinterpreted as passivity. But no, he is, rather, steadfast, strong, faithful to God, though he does not understand what God is doing, though he feels that God is far away.

Putting himself first, Job might have turned his back on God because it wasn't working out so well for him (homeless, hungry and covered in sores). Job rather maintains his loyalty to God, because in relationships of true mutuality we seek the well-being of the other before our own. In relationships of true mutuality, as we see with God and Job, both benefit (Job has property and family and health again in the end), for the paradox is that in seeking the best for another we find the best of and for ourselves.

I am wondering, too, if we see mutuality between God and humans in the healing of Bartimaeus? The way Richard told the story this morning was in relation to a way of being that can see humans flaunting their wealth and power. Jesus, in response to Bartimaeus's cry - 'have mercy on me!' - doesn't say, oh, yes, I have the power to fix you, so fix you I will deign to do. Rather, Jesus says, what do you want from me? And in the act of healing, he acknowledges that Bartimaeus himself has been instrumental in attaining his wholeness - your faith has made you well. Jesus brings something to the relationship with humans in God's divine power to heal; Jesus makes space for the humans he meets to bring their (our) power to heal as well. Inviting our faith in, commitment to God and God's Way of Love, our fulness of being is enabled to complete God, who chooses to have fulness of being with us not apart from us.

God is constantly choosing to make Godself vulnerable for the sake of the other, us, humans and the whole creation.
When we make ourselves vulnerable for the sake of the other, and align ourselves to God, we honour the fulness of God's being.

God and humans are in a relationship of mutuality - God chooses to participate in this relationship, and so do we. But we need to make that choice much more than God does. And that's what makes mutuality, what makes love, so profound - the giving of oneself for the sake of the wellbeing of another, and finding there our own wellbeing as well.

*on taking risks and making oneself vulnerable, check out this contemporary story from Australia, told by my friend Steve

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