Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 23), 14 October 2018
October 14, 2018 | by Marjorie Suchocki
|Reading 1||Reading 2||Reading 3||Reading 4||Reading 1 Alt||Reading 2 Alt|
|Job 19:25-26*; 23:1-9, 16-17 (*verses from Ch. 19 added by M. Suchocki)||[Psalm 22:1-15]||[Hebrews 4:12-16]||[Mark 10:17-31]|
Job: Faith in Tough Times
Job 19:25-26*; 23:1-9, 16-17
- If you choose to preach from Job, It is essential that you first re-read the entire book. Each lectionary text requires its full context .
- Job 19:25-26 added to this week’s lectionary reading by Marjorie Suchocki for continuity and context.
The chapters between last week’s two chapters and today’s text in Job 23 tell the story of Job’s increasing misery, his insistence on his righteousness, and his three “comforters” (as they are usually called—but strange comforters, they!). The abiding theme of the comforters reflects the dominant theology of the time that righteousness will be rewarded with good health and many possessions. Affliction, to the contrary, is simply a witness that you are guilty of some evil. Protestations to the contrary are but further witness that the evil is some hidden wickedness. While we easily chide the comforters, we must remember that we didn’t exactly leave that story behind with the ending of the book of Job. Much Reformation theology echoed a similar theme — good fortune was not only the result of hard work, but of a righteous life. Indeed, Luther railed against “works righteousness” for a reason! And in our own day, don’t we have those who preach what is called a “prosperity gospel?” If one does good deeds, and especially if one tithes, won’t good things accrue? Indeed, when persons who follow such a theology fall into common ailments of our finite lives—such as cancer!—they can be berated for some secret, unconfessed sin. Alas, Job’s comforters would find many like-minded companions in some contemporary forms of Christianity!
But lest we fall tempted to believe such a perverse gospel, we have the words of Job in the texts for today. We are familiar with Job 19, for wherever Handel’s Messiah is sung, we hear the ringing affirmation: I know that my Redeemer lives! Handel puts the message after the resurrection. But Job! He is centuries before Christ! And the exalting words are not the climax of a wonderful revelation, but the cry of faithfulness from a beleaguered soul. He has seen no sign of glory, no vision of victory. He is beset upon by his friends who insist that he must be a vile sinner, since clearly he is being punished for something! He is agonized by the silence of God — for as yet there is no voice from God to Job in the text. Job is in deep mourning from the deaths of his children, and he experiences unrelenting pain from his head to the soles of his feet from those grossly seeping boils, disfiguring him and bowing him down. This immersion in misery is the context of “I know that my Redeemer lives.” And such a cry in the midst of agony — is not this cry, more than any of his protestations, a witness to his faith and his faithfulness?
Chapter 23 resumes the theme, but now with an earnest desire to be in the presence of God, and experience his judgment. Job’s misery clouds his senses; his faith in God is despite his misery. And here it seems that deep in the heart of his pain is a feeling of God’s absence.
Doesn’t the cross of Calvary tell us the same thing? Isn’t Jesus engulfed in such pain that the pain itself drives out the sense of God’s presence? Some would say that God has turned the divine back on the beloved son, being too pure to witness the evil sin of crucifixion! Job in his pain, Jesus in his pain, experience God as absent! But the experience of God as absent and the reality of God as present are not mutually exclusive. The omnipresent God is never absent, whether we have feelings of God’s presence or not. Deeper than the experience of absence is the compassionate presence of God: “underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deut. 33:27).
In times of trouble we can feel bereft of God’s presence. Pain is a jealous possessor, driving out all sense of divine presence, and faith may be fed but a meager diet. Nonetheless, deeper than the pain is the steady presence of the compassionate God, and faith lives from such presence even in the experience of absence.
Job’s witness is that faith goes deeper than pain, and deeper than the experience of absence. Faith cries out: I know that my Redeemer lives! And somehow, no matter what pain we experience, that is enough. Easter comes.
Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki is Professor Emerita, Claremont School of Theology, Faculty Co-Director Emerita of the Center for Process Studies, Director Emerita of Process and Faith, and the founder and former Director of the Common Good International Film Festival (formerly, Whitehead International Film Festival). Among her many books are God Christ Church: A Practical Guide to Process Theology; The End of Evil: Process Eschatology in Historical Context; The Whispered Word: A Theology for Preaching; In God’s Presence: Theological Reflections on Prayer; and Through a Lens Darkly: Tracing Redemption in Film.