Job 7:1-4, 6-7
1 Corinthians 9:16-19, 22-23
The Lectionary that we use for our readings every Mass is a blessing to our Church. Over the three-year cycle, it systematically covers all major passages from the New Testament – the Gospels, the letters from Saint Paul and the other Apostles, Revelations, and Acts of the Apostles. However, the Old Testament is not so thoroughly covered, and so someone that doesn’t read it themselves outside of Mass can miss out on quite a lot of history and teachings that give background to why the Church is like what it is today and the basis behind her teachings.
Take the book of Job. Today is one of the two days when we will hear from that book, at least on Sunday. Yet it is a great story, in which we see people struggle with the same questions which we ourselves still struggle with more than two millennia after it was written.
The Book of Job, in a nutshell, begins with God and Satan discussing an upright man, Job, whom Satan claims will curse God if his wealth and family are taken away (Jb 1:1-12). Do not confuse this Satan with the fallen angel called by that name now – the Satan was the name of the Adversary at court, essentially the prosecuting attorney whose job was to test the truth of claims made before God. God allows Satan to take Job’s wealth and let his children die (Jb 1:13-19), but still, Job will not curse God, but instead proclaims the famous line, “Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there; the LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD” (Jb 1:21 TANAKH). Then God is urged by Satan into allowing him to take away Job's health and inflict bodily suffering on him, but still, Job won't curse God, even when urged to do so (Jb 2:1-10). Then three of Job's friends come to visit and to comfort him (Jb 2:11-13), but Job is so distraught he doesn’t speak for seven days, and notably, his friends also sit in silence that whole time with him. The middle section of the book of Job is a series of discussions between Job with his friends and then with a young bystander. In these exchanges from which our first reading is taken, Job laments his condition and maintains his innocence, but his visitors insist that Job's condition must be God’s punishment on him due to sin (Jb 3-37). Finally, God responds to Job from a great storm that He is God, creator of all, and Job cannot understand His ways (Jb 38-41). God never responds directly to Job’s demand that He explains why he is suffering, but God confirms Job’s statements that he is upright and does not suffer due to sin, and rejects the statements of the others. As a reward, God restores double-fold Job's fortune and family at the end of the book (Jb 42:7-17).
Now it's important to know that Job should not be taken as an actual event as we would read from a reporter covering an important legal court case. It is a morality tale that was designed to instruct the Jewish reader, just the same as Jesus will use parables to instruct the first Christians. There was probably not an actual Job, the same as there was probably not an actual Good Samaritan – they are examples of real people we could encounter in real situations, the purpose of which is to demonstrate correct behavior and to wrestle with important moral decisions that we all face. Have we all not sat around a table with some family or friends afterlife has taken a bad turn and wondered, “why me? What have I done to deserve this?”
And, as I said, God does not answer the question of why bad things happen to good people, at least not directly, but He does tell us what answer is wrong: that we are punished in this life for sin. Jesus will also teach His disciples this when they ask him why a man was born blind, and Christ states flatly that it was not due to the sin of the person or his parents. And the fact that God rewards Job in the end for his faith, even in his anger at his misfortune, is an Old Testament precursor for what Christ will directly promise His followers: we might not be rewarded or punished in this life for our conduct, but we will in the next. Christ, in today's Gospel, heals people as proof that God can heal us, just as He did Job who kept the faith despite his despair. Jesus tells His followers, including us, that this is what He came to preach: the salvation of God.
The lessons from the readings today can be useful in our approach to two upcoming events this week. The first comes from our parish intention: praying for the front-line workers who are dealing with the pandemic. Some people in their ignorance or arrogance presume to understand the will of God and pronounce that some catastrophe is divine retribution for this or for that – it is human nature to want to blame a misfortune like this pandemic on someone or something. Job is a scriptural answer to that wrongful way of thinking. But more importantly, those who are risking their lives to help those impacted, even at the risk of they themselves being adversely affected, are answering the Christian mandate to love one another and to help the disadvantaged. God will bless them for their actions, double-fold, and we must pray from them and thank them for their courage, leadership, and selflessness. To those of you here today who are in this group, may God bless your work of healing and service.
The second application of today's readings comes from the fact that February 7 starts National Marriage Week. In the story of Job, Job's friends were wrong to attempt to convince him that he had brought misfortune upon himself through sin, but they were initially right when they tried to comfort him. In fact, Job was in such despair when they arrived that he just sat there saying nothing for seven days, and his friends sat there with him the whole time, saying nothing but being present to let him know that he was not alone. Marriages that last are based on just this type of mutual support that, as the vows state, is there in good times and in bad. Marriages that last keep an eye on God and understand that calling on Him through prayer will both bring blessing in this world as well as help each other and any children reach the blessing of the next. When a family goes through a crisis, God is there if we will call on Him, and even though it might not be His will to heal us physically He will comfort us through His promise of salvation which gives us purpose and hope. The institution of marriage under stress from a culture that sees it not as a life-long union for the benefit of the couple and for the raising of loved children, but as a temporary contract until one or both get tired of it. Let us pray for marriage and for families.
As we continue with the Mass, let us come to the altar at communion with the faith of Job, thanking God for all His blessings. Let us pray for the patience of Job’s friends who stood by with Job in his loss and were there to try to comfort him. Let us lay our own cares and suffering at His altar with the understanding that His ways are beyond us but His promise of salvation is what we have faith in. We can do no better than repeat the prayer of Job: “the LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.”