The “approximate” text of my homily for my OT final is below the fold. I say “approximate” because it was an oral final and unlike the rest of the class, I didn’t read from the text but used it as a rough outline and just tried to talk. The attempt at levity at the start with the Elihu/Elious quote at the beginning worked a lot better “off the cuff” than on paper.
Job. Much like the book of Revelations in the New Testament, Job is the book that gives pause to the reader before diving into its complexities. Yet, here we find this book read on more than one evening Matins, ahem, in Holy Week. Yet here I will essay to speak, remembering Elious:
“I am rather young in age, but you are older; so I held my peace, being reticent to declare my learnings to you. [ … ] It is not the long lived that are wise, nor do the aged know discernment.”
Ahem. So much for Scripture being inerrant. It has likely been a long day for all of us so I’m going to try to restrict this little talk to try to answer a few simple questions about the verses we just heard (or read).
First, Why this reading? Why is this reading, taken from the whole of Scripture selected to be read on this night? For that matter, to amplify, why are three (four?) passages from Job read in Holy Week?
Second and perhaps a way to approach the prior question, we might usefully look at examining in what context can or should consider this reading? More explicitly, how does this reading fit in the book of Job, into the Old Testament, into Lent and Holy Week and more specifically at this day in Holy Week?
Third, what are some of the lessons we can derive from this and how can we apply it today to our lives?
And finally, what can we take from a larger theological perspective, how does it figure in or rather how can it advance our understanding of the relationships between God, Man and the His creation?
Before we get too far into this, I’d like to point out that the reading given in the lectionary notes is not derived from the LXX. Specifically an extended paragraph with a conversation between Job and his wife is skipped. Let me read that section for you, starting with verse 9.
Then after a long time had passed, his wife said to him, “How long will you persist and say, ‘Look I will hang on a little longer, while I wait for the hope of my deliverance’ for look, your sons and daughters, my womb’s birth pangs and labors, for whom I wearied myself with hardships in vain. And you? You sit in the refuse of worms as you spend the night in the open air. As for me, I am one that wanders about and a hired servant — from place to place and house to house, waiting for when the sun will set, so I can rest from the distresses and griefs that now beset me. Now say some word to the Lord and die!” But Iob look up and said to her, “You have spoken like one of the foolish women. If we received the good things from the Lord’s hand, shall we not bear the bad?” In all these things that happened to him Iob did not sin at all with his lips before God.”
So, what is this book of Job. Where does our reading fit in, besides being a chapter number “2” putting it at the beginning. Job starts off in the first two chapters with a conversation between God and Satan. God points out Job as an excellent example of a good and Godly man. Satan offers that he’s only that way because his life has been blessed. So, God offers to Satan that he might put Job to the test. First Satan removes in a stroke Job’s accomplishments, namely his wealth and his children. After that, in the reading we heard (or read), he removes his health and we find Job sitting on a rubbish heap using a piece of broken pottery to scrape pus from sores which cover his body. After all this Job still is “did not sin with his lips before God.”
Three friends visit Job. These friends are princes and kings, peers and companions of Job prior to his losing his possessions. And they begin a conversation about why this has happened and what it might mean. His friends think the fault is because he has sinned or failed to worship God rightly. Job denies this, he has been faithful to God, charitable to the poor and needy, and is blameless. Yet still this has transpired.
There is a young man, unheralded in the prior conversations who buts in and begins, with the quote with which I began. One of the points he makes is that God punishes more severely and for smaller infractions those to whom he has given much. So perhaps Job’s sin was minute, but because he was so well rewarded now he is so severely punished.
Finally, God speaks in answer to Jobs inquiries and to their conversation. God’s answer, like much of Scripture is a puzzle. God doesn’t answer Job’s question and plea for an answer directly. God says basically, much like he did to Moses, “I am. I am creator of the Universe. I created” And this in a succinct epilogue ends the book, God restores Job’s “stuff” and pronounces that “he will rise again with those the Lord raises up.”
The Fathers teach us that Job was a type of Christ. Typology is a biblical hermenuetic which was practiced avidly in the centuries following Jesus. (A hermenuetic by the way is a big word that means “a way of extracting meaning from text”) After the midpoint of the first century and for more than a few centuries to follow, Christian scholars, teachers, and preachers searched Scripture and Nature, but especially the Old Testament, for reflections of Jesus, the Resurrection, and other elements or events of Jesus’ life. Job is in fact seen as a type of Christ. This is seen in that Job, like Jesus was an innocent condemned to suffer. I might also suggest, although I have not seen it written elsewhere, that perhaps Job’s wife is a type of Eve. Perhaps Job’s wife, especially as given in the extended LXX translation, and her little speech was prompted by Satan just as Eve was tempted in the garden tempted Adam, here his wife tries to draw Job astray. Yet, Job is unwavering in his faith in God and will not condemn God for withdrawing his blessings from his life. Jesus with his death and Resurrection has redeemed Adam from death … and perhaps this foreshadows that, where this man as a type of Christ rejects by typological proxy Eve’s temptation.
Of the service in which this reading/lection is placed, one might ask what are highlights, on what does this service focus? The matins service sung previously highlights two figures, the harlot anointing Jesus hair with expensive perfumes and Judas betraying Jesus for the price of a potters field, 30 pieces of silver. I suggest we can make clear connections with that and Job and more specifically chapter 2?
In the kindergarten and beyond there is a common notion about the righteousness that is predominant. Tit for a tat, so to speak is a natural notion of ethical behavior. If you do good, you are rightly rewarded. If you do evil, you should be punished. This natural notion is found in the context of God and his relationship with Israel throughout the Old Testament. Following the people through the desert with Moses to the decline of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah after David to the exile. Moses and the prophets repeatedly show how when the people fail to cleave to God the consequence is that bad things happen. David takes Bathsheba and kills her husband … and therefore God takes that firstborn son of that union. Good things -> reward. Bad -> punishment.
This kindergarten balance, this natural ethical algebra if you will, is confounded and rejected in Job. Job was righteous, yet he suffers greatly despite that. This idea of reversing the natural ethical algebra is one we find repeated more than once. I suggest this reversal is one of the key reasons that this lection is read in this place. This story, recounted by Job and his friends has some key parallels in the context of this natural ethical algebra and its reversal in this service in Holy week, in other stories tied to the Lenten/Paschal cycle like the Publican and Pharisee, and as well in Jesus teaching and life taken as a whole.
How can the Harlot and Judas be seen to be refutations of the normal ethical balance? Let’s compare the two. Judas was a man of means, he handled the financial aspects of the ministry of Jesus. Harlotry in first century Israel on the other hand was almost certainly not position sought for either wealth or status but one to which one was likely driven by circumstance. Spiritually speaking Judas was one of Jesus’ disciples, the harlot … likely not even permitted to worship. So by our ethical equation then, Judas should by rights be the better person, for he has been received much more. Yet this is not the case.
There is another parallel, which takes us a little past our lection which was read today, but Job was rewarded ultimately for “Iob did not sin at all with his lips before God” and furthermore what evidence we have is that his heart and mind were truly given to God. Likewise we venerate the actions and memory of the Harlot in contrast to Judas because of their attitude (and actions) toward things of God and specifically Jesus.
Jesus in fact quite regularly inverts the natural/normal status of our expectations regarding the ethical algebra/equation during his teaching and his life.
There is a word used in connection quite often to the book of Job, namely theodicy. Theodicy is a 68 cent word which is defined as an attempted answer to the problem of evil or the branch of theology that defends God’s goodness and justice in the face of the existence of evil. How can a good God permit evil in the world. Job’s wife states the crux of the problem, asking why as you are blameless can you not fault God for your innocent sufferings, or the memory of those whose birth pangs for which she labored in vain for those children who are now dead. How can a good powerful God permit evil in the world, or more specifically permit Satan, on a lark as it were, to test Job and thereby kill his children?
While I will not presume to pose a simple answer to this question, I will put forward a question about that which may be useful for reflection. Jesus and his life and teaching, Judas and the Harlot, Job and his story offer a twist on the natural ethical algebra. A large part of the accusatory argument against God laid to His feet by the theodicy question depend crucially on the normal ethical algebra. If you take that assumption away, and reverse or confuse this algebra in fundamental ways, you need to re-examine how you view God and His actions.
Virtually all of the theodicy discussions from a Christian source do (or should) bring into their discussion a reconciliation of their explanation with the discourse and teachings found in Job. And one might add that the young whippersnappers (being a poor reference to my opening quote) who designed and set up our lectionary who put this lection in the contextual neighborhood of Holy Week, the Resurrection, the Harlot/Judas comparison all shmushed together.
Modern events such as the earthquakes at Haiti and Armenia, the tsunami in Indonesia, and even the Katrina hurricane and New Orleans all raise for us questions of theodicy. Why did God allow this to happen. But when we consider such questions it might be good to turn that around and consider the relationship between these lessons learned from Job, the Harlot, and Holy Week.
One thing to consider in relation to our lives here in America. We are very much in possession of a well blessed life. We, like Job, living in comfort and luxury. We have many cattle and fine possessions … and so on. Satan has not yesterday had conversed with God over our particular situation. But we might ask, would God offer you or me as a paragon of righteousness? Recall the toparion from the start of Lent:
My soul, my soul, arise!
Why are you sleeping?
The end is drawing near,
and you will be confounded.
Awake, then, and be watchful,
that Christ our God may spare you,
Who is everywhere present and fills all things.
Allow me then to recap.
Why this reading? Because Job is a type of Christ and his suffering on the Cross has resonance with the remembrances we practice in Holy Week and because the ethical twist present in Job is paralleled by Christ and the primary story in this service.
We answered the question of why this reading was read by looking at it in the context of the narrative of Job and as well in the context of the service in which it is placed and finally how that fits into Holy Week and Lent in general.
And a primary lesson we can take from this week and this lection in particular is to emphasize how we should not expect or live by the standard kindergarten or natural ethical equation. By being conscious of how this tit/tat natural ethic is rejected over and over by Jesus (and foreshadowed here by the book of Job) we may then find ways to “do the right thing.”
And finally from a theological perspective, specifically Theodicy, we have perhaps located a track for understanding a piece of the puzzle of the existence and place that evil has in the world.