My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
These poignant words from the Psalmist, later spoke by Jesus on the cross and even what John of the Cross called the “Dark Night of the Soul” are affirmation of relationship.
We don’t miss people of whom we have no knowledge, and the more someone’s life is intertwined in ours, the more we miss them when they are not within eyesight, or earshot, or the grasp of an embrace.
Job declares, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him” (Job 23:3). Life has become pretty miserable for Job. He lost family, possessions, and even his health. He lives in a society that believes in cause and effect to the point that they believe it something bad happens to you, you did something to deserve it. Job is convinced that if he could only have a conversation with God, he would be able to plead his case and prove that he is innocent. Job’s cry, longing for a God whose presence he does not currently feel, is also an acknowledgement of a past relationship. Job believes that God is a righteous judge and is convinced that God will redeem him in the end.
The story of Job leaves us with as many questions as it does answers but Job never stops believing in God and God never abandons Job. Their relationship is what one might call complicated, but I think sometimes we forget that the name given to God’s chosen people was Israel. After Jacob wrestles with an unknown person in the desert, he is re-named Israel, “God perseveres.” We are told that it is because he, Jacob, wrestled with both men and God and he persevered, but the name he is given is Israel, “God perseveres.”
There are many moments, as a parent, that you wish you could hold on tightly to your child and keep them from harm, but if you did they would never grow: when as a toddler they take their first steps, when they learn to ride a bike or drive a car, when they begin to form adult relationships, and the list goes on, but you have not abandoned them, you have just given them some space to become who they were created to be. So too with us, sometimes God gives us space to grow and to fall down, to crash and burn, to have our hearts broken, and to get up and learn from out mistakes and try again.
Our Psalmist, too, is in a crisis. Very probably he is deathly ill and feels like people are hovering over him like vultures over road kill, rather than offering comfort, they are fighting over who will get his stuff when he dies. Despite his feelings of abandonment, he takes comfort in remembering the relationship God has had both with him as an individual and with Israel, his forebearers.
For us, as Christians, we see this poem as prophesying the crucifixion of Jesus. Jesus even begins reciting it as he hangs on the cross. What we don’t hear in this reading is the ending. “To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust and I shall live for him. Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to be people yet unborn, saying that he has done it. “ (Psalm 22: 29-30) What begins in a cry of abandonment and dying, ends in hope and faith and life.
While our Old Testament lessons begin with cries of abandonment, our Gospel reading is a call to abandonment. It is a call to abandon all that stands in the way of our following Christ.
Back in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James and John while they were at work. They were fishing or mending their nets, very necessary things for people who make their living from the sea. They were probably following the path of their parents and grandparents, and possibly many generations of their ancestors. Jesus called them to “come fish for people” and they dropped what they were doing and followed him. Now another young man has stopped Jesus and asked, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Up to this point he has done all that the law required. He has learned and followed the ten commandments and we are told that Jesus looked upon him and loved him. Jesus saw potential in this young man, but he also saw something that was holding him back. The young man “had many possessions” which took first place in his heart. Jesus tells him to sell them, and to follow him. Jesus offered the man a choice, follow me or continue on the path that you have been traveling. The young man wanted both, but when forced to choose, he abandoned Jesus rather than abandon his stuff.
Jesus recognized how hard it is for those who have material wealth to let go to make room for spiritual wealth. He said it is “easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Mark 10: 25) Much discussion through the ages has been had of this statement. Some have said that camel is a misinterpretation and that is should have been a thick rope, others have imagined a narrow passage in the Jerusalem wall which was so small a camel must unload its burdens and get down on its knees to pass through (this is a beautiful image, but there is no evidence to support its existance). But however you interpret it, Jesus is talking about how earthly possessions begin to own us rather than we own them. They can easily become our gods. We put our faith and trust in financial security, social status, comfortable homes, etc. rather than trust God enough to put God first.
Peter observed that he and the other twelve disciples had walked away. They did not necessarily sell everything they owned. We know that Jesus stayed at Peter’s house at least once, and possibly often. We know the four fishermen go out in their boats and continue to fish while they are following Jesus, because Jesus walks on the water past them in their boat on one occasion and calms a storm while he is in the boat with them on another, but they put Jesus first and everything else second.
Jesus tells them that they will not do without in this lifetime. God will provide for them all those things they gave up, but Jesus also tells them they will be persecuted. This will not be simply trading in old stuff for new stuff. This will be a journey that will have its share of hardships. But for those who persevere, they will inherit eternal life.
We are all in different places in our walk and we will be in a variety of places throughout our lifetimes. If you are feeling abandoned and wondering where God is in all this madness, you are not alone, and God has not abandoned you. I pray that you can find comfort in the scriptures as you remember all the times others felt abandoned only to know that God was right there all the time, just giving them space to grow.
If you feel that God is calling you, but you are wrestling with the cost of that call, remember that God promises to care for you, but does not promise that the way will be easy. In fact, he promises a cross, but also resurrection.
For many others, you may feel like the twelve with Christ in your midst, but with so many questions still. Remember that the joy of any relationship is getting to know the other person and still finding you can be surprised, even after many years.