A sermon for Proper 25; Job 42:1-6, 10-17, Psalm 34:1-8, (19-22), Hebrews 7:23-28, Mark 10:46-52
Back on Oct 7, we start a month-long reading of Job. I’ve often held that one cannot get the experience of Job until you have slugged through its massive verbiage, much as Job slugs through the unfairness of his circumstances, and the response of his wife and friends. I also shared that Job is my favorite Disney story in the bible. This morning we come to the final chapter when the opening perfection, shattered through the middle of the story, is fully restored.
The final chapter is in three segments. In the first, Job acknowledges his ignorance and insignificance (Epperly). After being in God’s presence, Job has a deeper, more direct understanding of God from experiencing God firsthand (Gaventa and Petersen). He now knows that God is God and he is not (Epperly). He now knows there are elements of chaos and darkness in the world that can be the source suffering, but they are under God’s vigilance. Job now knows he suffers not because he sinned, or because of divine neglect or injustice, but because he is human, and life happens. Job does not despise himself, as our translation reads. The word ‘despised’ is elsewhere translated as reject or retract. He says something like “I reject and retract dust and ashes” (Newsom) or better yet “I changed my mind” (Tucker, Jr. Proper 25).
We did not read the second segment this morning. In it, God expresses displeasure in Job’s friends. Not because their arguments are wrong, but because of their failure to minister to Job in his time of need (Harrelson). They allowed their fears to determine their actions and beliefs. They are instructed to make a burnt offering and to ask Job to pray for them. They make the offering. They ask Job to pray for them. He does, and God accepts his prayer. Job effectively praying for his friends tells us something about being a faithful follower of God. Oh, that we could stop actions driven by fear, and pray for the wellbeing of those who oppose us.
And now we come to the fairy tale ending. I think on October 14 I used the line “mirror, mirror on the wall” to invite us to look into the mirror and see if our reflection is God’s we are or a reflection of a world of our own imagination? (Trotter) This morning I’m back to the same line “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all?” Only I’m not interested in who the best-looking person is, I’m interested in knowing if God is fair? if God is just? Job never gets, and so, we never get an answer to that question. What he does get is a vision of the truth, about God, about creation and about himself. Learning to see the truth is hard work; learning to see the truth about the world around us, learning to see the truth about ourselves is tormentingly difficult (Pagano). Job now sees the truth. Through a secondhand experience of Job’s trial, have we learned something of the truth about the world? about ourselves? Maybe how we read the final segment of today’s reading gives us a clue.
We heard the fairy tale ending. Everything Job has is restored, only more so. All those who ignored him ate with him, offered him comfort, and gave him “a piece of money and gold ring.” He now has twice as many herds and flocks. All his children are restored. And at 140 Job dies “old and full of days” The phrase “old and full of days” is used to describe Abraham (Gen. 25:8), Isaac (Gen. 35:29) and David (1 Chr. 23:1) (Keener and Walton); and is a traditionally associated with wisdom and piety (Gaventa and Petersen).
A couple of observations. We never hear from or about Job’s wife, who also suffered all the losses that Job did. I wonder what she thinks of bearing seven children again? In chapter 1 the focus is on Job’s sons. Here the attention is on his three daughters. Their names are revealed, and that is always indication this is a time to pay attention; and they each received an inheritance with their brothers; that is very rare in the bible. Maybe through his suffering Job has seen the true plight of the powerless, especially women. (Harrelson).
While in high school and college I worked a couple summers for a construction company. The owner had a partner who was a commercial real estate broker. From time to time the broker put together investors to buy a piece of investment property. Some thirty years ago I was invited to join one. We did. We made ten years of principle, interest and tax payments. We made another ten years’ worth of tax payments. And then the property sold for ten times what we paid for it. Angie and I took our share and used most of it to finance a gymnastics and competitive cheerleading school. Later we also invested in an oil well that would provide a nice cash flow. Not quite a fairy tale, but life looked very good. Then the scheme broke. The business plan did not consider discretionary income, which was low in the area we were, and is the category of family income that pays for things like gymnastics and cheerleading. The oil well produced one royalty check and then spewed water. Both investments went bust. We made some mistakes, but we were well-intentioned; we saw the gym as a form of outreach ministry. We weren’t as righteous as Job, no one is, but we were acting, for the good of the community. As it goes with failed investments there has been no restoration.
All of you have had similar loss experiences, in business, relationships, school, death, etc. How do we apply the restoration, the Disney ending of Job, to our experiences? Until the restoration of Job’s fortunes, we easily see Job’s story as a powerful biblical counter to the implied biblical idea that fortunes are a sign of God’s blessing; and illness, poverty, and miss fortune are a sign of some sin or another (Newsom). Until the restoration bit, Job debunks the prosperity gospel (Tucker, Jr. Proper 22) The trouble is not the Disney /fairy tale ending. The trouble is reading it as literal truth, not a metaphorical truth revealed in a Disney style fairy tale story. We can resolve our conundrum, our unsolvable puzzle, by a return to the beginning. Not chapter 1 of Job, but chapter 1 of Genesis:
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)
In the first story in scripture, we learn God made us, all of us, to be in relationship with God. This is the most important relationship we can have; all the others stand on this one. So, if our relationship with God is fractured, as Job’s was, the most important thing is to restore that relationship. Job changes his mind about the injustice of life’s unfair tribulations, without any assurance of a subsequent blessing. So, the restoration of Job reflects God’s faithfulness, eternal presence, to those who have a humble awe of God. Job does not hold God in awe to receive a reward, but in discovering the awesomeness of God, Job discovers the faithfulness of God (Tucker, Jr. Proper 25).
I suppose this leads us to the metaphor of a Disney fairy tale of a life of woe when the hero or heroine asks “Mirror, mirror on the wall who’s most faithful of all?” Deep in your hearts you know. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take 42 grueling chapters to see the truth; but if it does our faithful God will there.
Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 28 10 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly>.
Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.
Newsom, Carol A. New Interpreters Bible, Book of Job. Ed. Leander E. Keck. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. X vols. Olive Tree App.
Pagano, Joe. “Let Me See, Pentecost 23 (B).” 28 10 2018. Sermons that Work.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Trotter, John Scott. “The Mirror On The Wall.” unpublished sermon, 14 10 2018.
Tucker, Jr., W. Dennis. “Commentary on Job 1:1; 2:1-10.” 7 10 2018. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020>.
Tucker, Jr., W. Dennis . Commentary on Job 42:1-6, 10-17. 26 10 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.