Oppression or Exultation

Wednesday, September 5, 2012 — Week of Proper 17

Gregorio Aglipay, Priest and Founder of the Philippine Independent Church, 1940

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 983)

Psalm 38 (morning) // 119:25-48 (evening)

Job 12:1, 14:1-22

Acts 12:18-25

John 8:47-59

[Go to http://www.missionstclare.com/english/index.html for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

In today’s readings we have a contrast between a religion of oppression and a religion of exultation. It is the contrast between the words of Job and the words of Jesus. (Ultimately, Job’s experience of the presence of God reconciles him and takes him into a religion of exultation. But not today.)

Today Job speaks of a God who is a distant and impeccable judge. Job wonders why God would even concern the divine self with something as insignificant as a human. We live short, brutal lives; we die; we are no more. Job yearns for the impossibility of some sort of resurrection. But the only picture is of an impassive God who brings fierce judgment upon humans, miserable sinners that they are. Job would speak to God, but God is beyond human knowing. Distant. Silent. Impassive at best. When active, God simply destroys in judgment. Such an oppressive God creates oppressive religion.

Gerald May said, “In all my experience as a psychiatrist and as a human being, the deepest, most pervasive pathology I have seen is the incredible harshness we have towards ourselves.” Some of the fault lies with religious education, he says. “Religious condemnation and moral guilt have been used for child-rearing and political control. …The more cruel we are to ourselves, the more likely we are to be mean to others.”

In my experience, the meanest forms of Christianity are those that picture God as a distant judge declaring sentence upon a completely guilty and sinful humanity. The weight of such a God bears down upon us, miserable offenders. Job’s words apply. How do you live up to perfection? In those forms of Christianity, Jesus is our escape clause from God’s judgment. But so much of the focus remains on our sin and our character as hopeless and fallen sinners.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus offers an alternative vision, grounded in an organic union with God, in love. His picture of God is of a loving, intimate Parent-God who glorifies us and frees us for eternal life here and now. Jesus offers an exalted, hopeful vision that sees us united in the very life of God.

The footnotes to the Access Bible trace the conversation between Jesus and his opponents. “The argument with the Jewish leaders elicits an escalating series of claims from Jesus: ‘I honor my Father; whoever keeps my word will never see death; it is my Father who glorifies me; I know the Father and I keep his word; Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day; before Abraham was, I am.’ The opponents remain at the literal, earthbound level: ‘You are a Samaritan and have a demon; Abraham died; the prophets died; you are not yet fifty years old.’

We see the contrast between two forms of religion: judgment vs. grace, bondage vs. freedom, oppression vs. exultation. Actually, both paths can lead to God. If we travel the path of judgment, bondage and oppression, our despair can ultimately throw us into the arms of God. Yet, always available at any moment is the path of grace, freedom and exultation. Either way, Job’s way or Jesus’ way, all paths can lead ultimately to God.

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