14th October, 2018
In the passage from Job today, we find Job sitting among ashes, in total misery. He is looking for God, so he can lay his case before him, plead his innocence. He cannot understand why God could cause him such suffering, as he is a righteous man. His friends have been less than helpful. Job’s children have all been killed in a terrible storm, his wealth stolen, and now he is in terrible pain with sores all over his body.
Job’s friends were not bad people. We are told that when Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar heard of Job’s misery they left home and come to him from afar- and when they saw the terrible physical state that Job was in they wept and tore their robes and threw dust in the air upon their heads. They also sat with Job for 7 days and 7 nights in silence to comfort their friend. However, when Job begins to plead his innocence day after day, this challenges their world view that God is a just God, who punishes the sinful and rewards the righteous. They say unhelpful things such as “God does not distort justice” telling Job that he must be a sinful man, who is now reaping what he has sown. One friend states that “one who is as full of talk cannot be vindicated” as wisdom tradition emphasises prudence and restraint in speaking, especially while addressing God. They refuse to believe that Job is blameless and advise him to repent for his sins that have caused his misery. Today, there is still an entry in the English dictionary for a “Job’s comforter”, a person who, while purporting to give sympathy, succeeds only in adding to distress.
Going on a pilgrimage can sometimes challenge our world view. Some of us went on a walking pilgrimage in 2015, from St Andrews, Epsom, to Missionary sites in Northland and finally to the Marsden Cross at Oihi, where Samuel Marsden preached at the 1st Christian service held in Aotearoa/NZ. On the way we learnt about Lord Bledisoe, who purchased the Waitangi grounds and 1,000 adjoining acres in 1932, and left this land in a trust to the nation. Without his recognition of the importance of the signing of the Treaty in 1840 at this place, the Treaty grounds that we visit today would have been sold to private enterprise.
We also learnt about the early Anglican missionaries in the Bay of Islands. Before going on pilgrimage, I admit that I had thought that missionaries had not understood Maori and had an agenda only to convert them and civilise them. It was not a view that had been challenged much.
However, I began to change my view of the role of the Missionaries and gain respect for them. Although they weren’t perfect people, they were men and women who often defended Maori rights even when this left them in a difficult position with Governor Grey and others who promoted settler interests. They strongly objected to the profitable musket trade with Maori in the Bay of Islands, as it led to many Maori perishing in the musket wars. We learnt that Henry & Marianne Williams and George and Martha Clark, and other missionaries formed close and respectful relationships with Maori, learning Te Reo and understanding tikanga Maori.
I did find it difficult however as it became even clearer that in the missionary era, the relationship of the Anglican and Protestant churches with the Catholic church, to which my Irish ancestors belonged, was more than a little strained, as was the relationship between the English and the Irish at the time. I was quite delighted, however, when Diane Kenderdine told me that she was part of a group that had visited Pompalier House, and when our pilgrims had told the Pompallier staff about our journey, they wouldn’t accept an admission fee as they wished to support our Pilgrimage.
We hear in the gospel today that Jesus was also on a journey, when the rich young man approached him. Jesus could see that he was a good man, who had kept the commandments all his life and Jesus loved him. We often focus on the man’s wealth as it was his possessions that he couldn’t bear to part with. But Jesus also says, come follow me, come on a journey that will challenge your worldview and open your eyes. I suspect that what the young man grieved was not just the promise of eternal life, but also for the offer of the unknown journey.
We did a lot of walking on our pilgrimage. One day we walked up a hill at Whangarei Heads with a very steep gradient. Richard suggested stops along the way. However, as I grasped for air, feeling that my lungs were about to burst, I stopped on an unofficial stop and made it clear I could not keep going. When I started walking again, Richard was behind me, telling me to take little steps, and as I did this, I found that my breathing evened out and I calmed down, and was able to continue.
When Richard asked me if I wanted to preach a sermon before he left, I felt way out of my comfort zone. A small part of me thought that if I said no I might feel that I had missed an opportunity to grow through the challenge, but the self-doubt has a life of its own, and sometimes sitting with it and asking what it is about is important.
In society today, there is still a dominant attitude that we reap what we sow and plenty of Job’s comforters giving advice that people deserve the misfortune they experience. We all have our fears and biases, that prevent us from really listening to and empathising with the experience of others who are different from ourselves. I pray for God’s wisdom so that we may be better friends and enablers of ourselves when we hit difficult challenges, and that we may also be friends to others, encouraging and enabling them on their journey.
– Anne Mitchell