Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.
The Book of Job was an important influence on William Blake’s writings and art. Blake, impoverished for much of his life, apparently identified with Job, who features in various guises throughout Blake’s work. Harold Bloom has interpreted Blake’s most famous lyric, “The Tyger”, as a revision of God’s rhetorical questions from the whirlwind (some of which we’ve read today). The god of Job’s “comforters”, who claim that Job’s trials are punishment for his sins, is a false god, says Blake. The true God is the One who speaks from the whirlwind – creative, free, unpredictable – glimpsed in terms of effects, in terms of what happens when this God makes an appearance, in terms of what is overcome, in terms of what is made possible. God be with you …
There’s a lot to explore in Blake’s illustrations. For example, he nearly always depicts Job’s wife as part of the scene, and nearly always as empathic (as shown in our cover art). There’s much written about Blake’s use of gesture, the symbolism of left hand and right hand, left foot and right foot ... Today, however, I notice something I haven’t noticed before: the similarities between the Job and God figures – they look so much alike. You’ll have your own questions and interpretations on that. It’s certainly interesting …
In light of our other readings today, I want to note two things (I’m continuing to draw on Blake, too). Firstly, that Blake’s God appears in the guise of Job turned toward others, toward creation. And secondly, that the encounter with the God of the whirlwind, the God/self turned toward others, sees Job at the centre of a new community of prayer, care and peace – the encounter positions Job as a kind of priest.
The God of the whirlwind does not address Job’s immediate concerns. Attention is shifted to the wild, to wild forces of creation, to lives of the creatures of the land and sea. “Where were you?” God asks the one overwhelmed by injustice, in the first of two torrential displays of divine creative power. In the past, I’ve thought about this along ecological lines – how a tumble in the ocean or a rumble with a big dog, a walk in the park or a retreat in the wilderness disorients and reorients. I’ve contemplated God in creation as source of wonder and renewal.
I don’t want to lose touch with that, but Blake’s illustrations invite another more “mystical” reading. There is a “you” attuned to creation. There is a self, in turns of tempest, with radical concern for others. The psalmist is part of the song that rejoices in “creative genius” – if God were wholly other there’d be no point of understanding and nothing at all to sing about.
There is a “you” attuned to creation. Job’s final response to God is not, then, so inscrutable: “Now my eye sees you …” (42:5). It’s something akin to the life of Jesus drawing believers into the life of God. Salvation, as our Orthodox friends profess, is a kind of divinisation, a coming to be like Christ, like God, which is always at the same time a coming to be more human, more responsive and more responsible.
We might think of ourselves in the image of God, then, even of God in the image of ourselves – with one crucial qualification: God is the “you” turned toward others. Blake would be pleased, I imagine, with the church’s selection of Gospel text for today. “The Promised One has come not to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
It’s not about narcissism. Instead of growing closer to Jesus’ radical vision of the kindom of God, the disciples struggle with walking away from their old and long-
“Now my eye sees you …” “The Promised One has come not to be served, but to serve.” It’s about action, a way of living, looking, learning. Kahlil Gibran, a Blakean visionary of sorts, writes: “?I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.”
Secondly, the encounter with the God of the whirlwind, the God/self turned toward others, sees Job at the centre of a new community of prayer, care and peace – the encounter positions Job as a kind of priest.
The conclusion to the Book of Job is startling. Job’s struggle in the name of justice is affirmed. Job’s theology is affirmed. Job’s friends learn to show empathy and they all learn to share. Each of Job’s three daughters is given a beautiful name (Jemimah, Keziah and Keren-
Christianly, the Book of Job offers a vision of Christ. And Christ, according to Hebrews 5, is our high priest. Just as Job’s wife is part of the scene, we too are priestly companions – the body of Christ in our particular place and time, turned toward others, toward creation. In some sense against ourselves (against our unimaginative selves). Yet in response to the Spirit deep within us, and thus true to our calling and identity as bearers of faith, hope and love.
One scholar writes: “[H]ere around this table together we … perform priestly functions. We make offerings for sin. We consecrate ordinary things and stand in the presence of the holy. We pray for the salvation and healing of the world. We mediate between heaven and earth, representing the world to God and God to the world. We do all this in Christ and through Christ … [W]e have been immersed into the life of our high priest” (Nathan Nettleton).
Let’s complete the homily together. In light of the words by Kahlil Gibran, for whom or for what are you called to pray? “I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy” … Amen.