A u c k l a n d A o t e a r o a N e w Z e a l a n d
a n g l i c a n c h u r c h
Jesus and Job: Reversing Roles with God
October 19, 2003
Ordinary Sunday 29 Isa 53:4-12 Hebrews 4:12-16 Mark 10:35-45
Many of you know that I have been happily scooting around town recently on my new Vespa. Someone described me as the 'quicker Vicar', which is ironic as the scooter goes at about the same speed as a ride on lawn mower.
I love my little Vespa. I ignore the laughter at traffic lights, and putt along at my own pace. I also try to ignore the scorn from motor bike riders who seem to think they are cooler because they have bigger equipment. A typical male stigma no doubt. In any case, I heard a story recently which particularly captured my imagination as a new Vespa rider...
A guy rolled up at the traffic lights on a tiny Vespa. (Let's call the guy Friedrick Nietzsche just for fun.) He pulled up next to a guy in a brand spanking sizzling red hot Ferrari. (Let's call him Sigmund Freud just to make a point. Can we maybe add that he had his mother in the passenger seat just to be cheeky?)
Nietzsche poked his head through the passenger window of the Ferrari and admired the car and its interior features. Freud glowed with pride and proceeded to boast of its dimensions, the details and the speed of his gazelle of a car. He gloated, "This baby will take off and reach 100ks an hour in 4 seconds. Just watch and see."
Sure enough, the lights changed and with little fuss Freud raced ahead. Within seconds he saw the tiny Vespa like a small speck in the distance through his rear view mirror. He smiled with pleasure, but his smile turned as the speck grew larger in his mirror and before he knew it the Vespa had raced up and overtaken his Ferrari. Nietzsche was charging ahead! Freud decided he couldn't let this happen. His Ferrari was being mocked!
So, he sped up and sure enough raced past the Vespa again. He relaxed when Nietzsche was just a speck in the distance again. Blow me down, it happened again! The Vespa came screaming past the Ferrari. After this happened three times, Freud was baffled but refused to let up. The fourth time Nietzsche sped past the Ferrari, he went completely out of control and crashed his Vespa.
Freud screeched to a halt and leapt out of his car. He found Nietzsche lying in a crumpled mess on the side of the road. Seeing that he was just alive, Freud asked him, "Is there anything I can do for you?"
Nietzsche whispered what could well have been his last words in a breathy hush, "Please unhook my suspenders from your side view mirror."
~ ~ ~
I don't know what the moral of that story is, except maybe never underestimate a Vespa! Or maybe never put an existentialist behind the handle bars of a Vespa. In any case a couple of themes from today's readings related for me. Job was a character a bit like Nietzsche on the Vespa. His life seemed out of control, spinning into destruction and there was a power figure who seemed to be mocking him throughout his demise.
The other was the reversal theme of the gospel passage. The hare and tortoise tale holds in life. So often what we assume to be the greatest is not actually so great; what we assume to be the fastest is actually the slowest and least effective and most dangerous.
Let me come back in a moment to the readings. But first a brief journey through a book I read a decade ago, When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel of Obsession; set in the 1880's, a time when the philosophical foundation of existentialism collided with psychoanalysis in a new form of therapy commonly called the "talking cure".
It tells the story of Dr Breuer, a student of Sigmund Freud, who was asked to heal Nietzsche of his suicidal despair, as nothing less than the future of philosophical endeavour was under threat if Nietzsche was lost to the world. Nietzsche was suffering from a broken heart and a strong skepticism about religion and the concept of hope.
Nietszche agreed to the therapy under the condition that this would be a mutual arrangement. This would be a true talking cure, as each would be therapist for the other. Breuer's ploy to uncover Nietzsche's depression by being vulnerable about his own lost love led to doctor being treated by patient.
The roles became fluid. Teacher became student, healer became sufferer, philosopher became psychologist. The conversations which evolved became a test case in existential psychotherapy, and possibly even narrative therapy where the conversation becomes its own healing story.
A similar theme was picked up in the more recent novel Tuesdays with Morrie, where an older man with only months to live is visited by a young journalist, a former student. He wants to help by visiting each week, but in the process of their conversations finds himself helped beyond words. Again the roles are fluid. Again there is a reversal.
Back to the readings. They speak of suffering, healing and the potential for power when human beings give up their own ego battle and live as co-creators.
Job was in despair, as if in a whirlwind. Today's passage has him in conversation with the Almighty. It could be read as cruel mocking of his suffering. Here we have a man who has lost everything, suffered all manner of pain and despair amidst the deafening silence of the God he was standing by, and the first words he hears from this God are "Gird up your loins like a man!" Sounds like a macho father who sees his son arrive home after school with a black eye and tells him, "Stop crying like a sissie. By the way, did you get some good shots on the other guy?"
The Almighty goes on for three chapters outlining his awesome creative power and wisdom. The end result is Job throwing himself in the dirt and repenting like a frightened dog, uttering the words, "I despise myself." The good news is that he went on to live a long and full life, the text tells us.
Now, either we conclude that God was a nasty tyrant in this story, or we see this as a clever conversation of role reversals taking place. The God figure is pointing to the power of choice. It never needed to get to this point for Job. Each of the acts of the God figure were creative choices for life and meaning. Why would Job as a co-creator chose any other? Why would he choose to take on a battle which never had to be fought? Did he in some way buy the religious notion that suffering is good for the soul? As Nietzsche would have asked, did he need his belief in a personal and powerful interventionist God as a crutch to show how weak he is?
Did he need the comfort or familiarity of the struggle? As Tolle would say, "Once the pain-body has taken you over, you want more pain. You become a victim or a perpetrator. You want to inflict pain, or you want to suffer pain, or both. Look closely and you will find that your thinking and behavior are designed to keep the pain going, for yourself and others. If you were truly conscious of it, the pattern would dissolve, for to want more pain is insanity, and nobody is consciously insane." (The Power of Now, p. 31)
Job the man is in conversation with the God figure, seeking help from the almighty oblivious to the power he himself held to choose his own circumstances. A role reversal, where as co-creators even the human and divine roles are fluid.
Jesus understood this well. He may have been described in Hebrews as a high priest but he was a human being first. The text tells us he lived, suffered and cried tears of pain. He may have been a great teacher and miracle worker but was a fellow journeyer first. He embodied co-creation. In one person he was a unique blend of human and divine, helper and helpee, healer and sufferer, philosopher and psychologist, oppressed person and social revolutionary.
His greatest achievements were not his miracles of bringing back the dead, rather it was the ordinary moments of humanity where he pushed others to shine and take the lead.
When you and I realise the enormous freedom and power we have on account of the fact that God resides within and between us, how could we not do great things in our life beyond our wildest expectation? Won't the greatest things we achieve be those ordinary times when we inspire others to greatness?
When we get over religion as a crutch, it can add so much to our lives without being about codependence. When we practice co-creation, we will even be practicing role reversal with the Almighty.
Ride a Vespa if that is your thing, ride a Harley or a Ferrari or ride nothing at all. Move slowly or quickly, but know that life is no competition. Be authentic to your own vision and purpose in life, but do it knowing your role as partner with God.
Choose power. Choose greatness. Know that the best way is often the way of reversal. Choose not to enter battles which don't have to be fought. Choose humanity first of all.