Job 38:1-7, (34-41), Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c, Hebrews 5:1-10, Mark 10:35-45

Readings for Proper 24 (29) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

For the Lectionary and other reflections, check out this

Proper 24B/Ordinary 29B/Pentecost 20 October 22, 2006 Textweek


In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

There are probably some language problems in the readings today that can just deflect us from actually hearing the gospel or the good news. To be offered the opportunity to be ‘slave of all’ probably doesn’t rank very highly on your list desires, so we do need to understand what’s actually meant by slave of all, and it is about serving, giving, orientation. Rather be a slave of all than a slave to one’s possessions. You just have to sit with some of that language, just like ‘Gird up your loins like men’ – go on then! And that’s where I want to start, not with girding up my loins, but with the reading from Job.

If you read through – it’s a fairly long wade through the Book of Job is – but we get to the bit today where the Lord answers Job and on the surface much of the divine word we hear from the Lord is a stating of the obvious. We’ve got cosmic examples of divine greatness and these are used perhaps to give us some perspective on Job’s smallness; they also give us some perspective of who we are and where we are in relation to the whole. But I don’t think humility and smallness are the underlying principle around which this dialogue has been drawn out to illustrate something. If it was humility and smallness, the dialogue could have been slightly more simple. There is within it though, some repetition and the repetition is about creativity, it’s about ability, it’s about knowledge and it’s about understanding.

Verse 2, Job has ‘words without knowledge’, verse 4, Job is questioned, ‘If you have understanding’, and verse 5, which is almost sarcastically phrased, has got that ‘Surely you know?’ Then, and this is a little bit further on because we skip a few verses, then we find in verse 36, there’s a rhetorical question: ‘Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?’ And verse 37 continues with ‘Who has the wisdom to ….’ and then there’s a litany of actions. It’s very easy and very obvious to know that the answer to these rhetorical questions is God. But behind the obvious there’s a very subtle distinction – look at verse 36 once again: ‘Who has put wisdom in the inward parts, or given understanding to the mind?” There’s a subtle distinction between wisdom, which is located in the inward parts and understanding which is located in the mind; it’s a subtle distinction that’s almost lost in the modern era.

Since the Enlightenment and the dawn of the scientific age our culture has placed a primary importance on understanding – knowledge is power. We are actually engaged in a quest to know the mind of God. The scientific quest has certainly achieved much; it’s brought great benefits to humanity; it’s also brought a fair share of disasters as well. The scientific quest has and continues to provide hope and the promise of heaven; at the same time it seems also to give us an understanding of hell and so lead us to despair.

The scientific mind has produced advances in understanding and achievement that continue at an ever-faster pace; they begin to fulfil and exceed the prophesies of science fiction. But these advances and the speed of the advances have left something in their wake; what’s been left behind is the wisdom of the inward parts - not deliberately, I think it is purely collateral damage; it’s become an incidental victim. Without question we have drunk of the scientific cup, drunk to the point that we now see ourselves as God-like. And why not? It’s a perspective that actually becomes quite natural when you look at the advances that humanity has made. We have an unprecedented capacity to create; we have knowledge and/or access to knowledge that makes previous generations look almost stone-age and within all this there’s been a subtle reshaping of our relationship with the divine; that reshaping has been accomplished without question. This morning in the dialogue that we read from Job, the question is asked, ‘Who has put wisdom in the inward paths or given understanding to the mind?’ And hearing the question today, we have to reclaim its real import – to just answer ‘God’ is to provide a trite response straight from the creed. But what if we look deeper for the meaning that lies behind that subtle distinction: wisdom, located in the inward parts, that comes before understanding that is located in the mind.

What is this wisdom? You can read books and commentaries by the bucket load on wisdom within the holy writings. Wisdom, Sofia, is related to the logos, to the word, to the spirit, to the feminine aspect of the divine. It’s not that the scientific mind, the masculine energy of the patriarchal society is wrong, it’s just that it’s only half the story and in the gospel reading today that same subtlety is underlined: ‘Whoever wishes to become great must be your servant.’ Great equals ruler, equals king, equals male, equals knowledge, equals science, equals father; servant equals slave, equals female, equals wisdom, equals creativity, equals mother. We begin to see the calling into balance.

Remember in chapter 37 of Job, the divine dialogue continues to unpack the question and it illuminates, not understanding but wisdom, and it underlines wisdom with a list of creative activities. I think to take the gospel reading and the reading from Job and to even begin to unpack them further we need to contemplate what is meant by ‘the wisdom that is in my inward parts’. We need to contemplate it; I think we will have a knowing of it, but it belongs in a past age: we will have to reclaim it within.

If we can locate it, if we can locate for ourselves the meaning that is held in the phrase ‘the wisdom that is in my inward parts’, if we can locate it and value it and then see it as operative alongside or even before understanding, then I think we will reshape our world. We will see the world around us with different eyes and with a different comprehension. If we get that sight then the world around us also will be seen and will change. And the change that we will see and the change that can be realised is a change that will enable us to serve the life of the many, to bring life to the whole.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphries <