Between Womb and Worm

wombandworm

The book of Job is about a righteous and an innocent man, who lives through an absolute nightmare. Every disaster that can happen to a man is falls upon Job. In quick succession he loses his wealth, his family, and his status within his community.

To compound his misery his ‘friends’ then tell him that all this is happening because he has been evil and God is punishing him.

Job cannot and will not believe this. He knows that he is not perfect, but he also knows that he is not a monster to be punished in such a way.

He believes, like his friends, that God does enact justice on each human being, but he knows that this process is neither mechanical nor sufficiently formulaic to be predictable. God remains a mystery to humankind, and His ways of working will always remain outside human comprehension.

Yet Job expresses his faith that ultimately, there will be justice for all.

In spite of all he is living through he still believes that ultimately the wicked will be punished for their wickedness and the righteous rewarded for their good conduct.

When he thinks about the wicked Job expresses their fate in the following startling words;

As heat and drought snatch away the melted snow, so the grave snatches away those who have sinned.

The womb forgets them, the worm feasts on them;

the wicked are no longer remembered but are broken like a tree.[1]

Human life is described, somewhat shockingly, as a journey between womb and worm.

For those who choose to live an evil life, their wickedness erases their own existence; makes it nothing, like water vapour under the hot sun, their lives disappear with no trace left behind.

Their wickedness erases their own existence

The unexpressed contrast is with those who choose to live life well – to live lives characterised by goodness, kindness, love and compassion, and holiness before God.

Their good lives are affirmed by each act of goodness, made more real, underscored, and concretised.

Each positive action – no matter how small – affirms and makes more real their existence. Something Jesus Himself expressed when he said;

And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.’[2]

As you have to be alive in order to receive a reward, this verse hints at the continued existence after death of those who have chosen to live well and do well.

So as we each make our journey between womb and worm we are presented with the opportunity to either affirm, to make more real, to validate, and to concretise our existence by acts of goodness;

or we can gradually erase our own existence by acts of wickedness.

Choose this day…

 

[1] Job 24 :19-20 NIVUK

[2] Matthew 10 :42 NIVUK

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Jesus the Worm

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The Early Church Fathers had some really imaginative ways of re-reading Old Testament stories. They saw in them some wonderful pictures that from a New Testament perspective take on a completely deeper meaning. Perhaps one of the most unusual is in the story of Jonah, where Jesus is seen as a worm.

“Jonah had gone out and sat down at a place east of the city. There he made himself a shelter, sat in its shade and waited to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God provided a leafy plant[a] and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the plant. But at dawn the next day God provided a worm, which chewed the plant so that it withered.” (Jonah 4:5-7 NIV)

In reflecting upon this event the Early Church Fathers interpreted the story in the following manner.

The shelter that Jonah builds represents the Jewish religion of the Old Testament. Something which was of the nature of a temporary and provisional dwelling and which would ultimately be replaced by the eternal Church of Christ.

The plant that God caused to grow up over this shelter was understood as representing the promises of the Old Testament; promises that gave the Jews hope and allowed them to stand firm under the ‘burning heat’ of persecutions and calamities. The ‘shelter’ these promises provided was what St Paul would term, ‘shadows of the things to come’ (Colossians 2:16-17) .

Under this same image therefore and somewhat shockingly, Jesus is seen in the symbol of the worm.  Jesus, in preaching the Kingdom of God and in calling all nations – Jew and Gentile – to it, ‘bites’ the hopes and dreams of earthly glory which had comforted the Jews. He ‘dried them up’ and brought to an end this temporary consolation; for this lesser glory was to be replaced by the greater glory of the One New Man – Jew and Gentile united in the glorious, everlasting Kingdom of God.

 

Can it be possible, that we should see Jesus in the rather unflattering image of a worm?

Actually, Jesus Himself seems to point to the acceptability of this.

Dying on the cross, Jesus quotes psalm 22. He quotes the beginning of the psalm,

‘My God, my God why have you forsaken me?’

And Jesus also quotes the end of the psalm,

‘he has done it’

Which can be equally translated, ‘it is finished’.

In so citing the beginning and the end of this psalm at this crucial moment, Jesus seems thereby to infer that this psalm has a particular reference to Himself.

And what do we find in the middle of this psalm?

But I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people. (Psalm 22:6 NIV)

There is also a spiritual application that we can make from this.

Dom Jean de Monléon reminds us that Jesus, ‘the divine worm’ comes to bite and to dry up all that is in us that is earthly, fleshly, all that attaches us to the world below, all that would hold us back from the greater, eternal glory of participation in God’s everlasting Kingdom[1].

 

[1] de Monléon Dom J. « Commentaire sur le Prophète Jonas », Clermont Ferrand : Editions de la Source, 1970, p114