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Minnesota Episcopal
Environmental
Stewardship
Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Church in Minnesota
Shield of Episcopal Church

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Lectionary Reflection

Year B, Proper 25
Revised Common Lectionary
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Reading

Job 42: 1-6, 10-17

Then Job answered the Lord:
‘I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
“Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?”
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
“Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.”
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.’
And the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. After this Job lived for one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. And Job died, old and full of days.

 

Reflection on Job 42: 1-6, 10-17
by the Rev Buff Grace

These two pericopes offer the two conclusions to the book of Job, one to the story of Job’s descent into suffering and its apparent meaningless (the older book) and the other to the framework that later editors added (newer additions), Chapters 1-2 and 42:10-17. The framework presents a less complex theology in which God and Satan parlay for Job’s soul. The bulk of the book instead presents a complex account of a human struggling to find meaning in his suffering. Job’s story is not a simple allegorical exercise to think about theodicy, but a visceral account intended to take the reader/listener into that suffering and to experience it as a part experiencing the text.

Thus the “happily ever after” ending of verses 10-17 ring quite hollow compared to the driving meat of the narrative and dramatically out of step with it. This ending represents the simpler, almost Disney-esque, editorial comment by the redactor who came to the text from a simpler theology. Similarly, if Job can be interpreted to offer guidance to 21st century Christians-- and I think it does indeed make a critical claim and especially as regards our relationship to our natural world-- the first thing it says is: “Don’t be fooled by simple answers. Resolution and reconciliation of humanity’s relationship to the earth will not necessarily look like everything restored to some kind Eden of savages de noblige, a utopia that science has suggested was never present to begin with.

Rather it is the older, truer ending that offers the more genuine and realizable vision of harmony with creation. And yet here there is a key translation issue that obscures even the full import of this vision. Before touching on this translation concern, it is valuable to recap the basic storyline of Job. Even those who have never opened a Bible will likely know of the “patience of Job” and the proverbial personal devastation for which he is still a likely poster child. He has lost everything including family and home and health. He has been advised how to relate to God by some well-meaning friends who, because they will not really get down into Job’s skin, cannot really help him. Job retreats from their advice into quieter realms of reflection. Finally there he is able to express his grief and feelings of abandonment by God. The language describing his conversation is that of the courtroom. He puts God on the witness stand and examines God.

God comes back with every bit as much vigor, turning the tables and declaring to Job. “Gird up your loins like a man and I will question you and you will answer me!” Then follows three chapters of God’s rhetorical questions about his providence and depth. The passion of God’s speech essentially reaches out and grabs Job by the back of the head, directing him to the mystery and expansiveness of God and forcing him to look on God’s immense providence.

Verses 1-6 read today are Job’s quiet response after finally hearing and knowing God. “I uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” How often we humans have stumbled back from our scientific discoveries more in awe and wonder at the intricacies of creation. How often we have come to realize that the way we have been using the science or the technology it made possible is out of step or incomplete or overkill. The trajectory of medical science and technology in the 20th century in almost every specialty is one of finer details, less invasive remedies, smaller and more targeted doses as humanity comes into deeper awareness of the complexity of our bodies and the natural world. Job’s experience and our own current experience cries out for our species to take a humbler, more measured approach to creation and our mutual interdependency. Rather than rushing in where angels fear to tread, we ought to remove our sandals and approach the burning bush with hope and wonder.

Nevertheless the typical translation for Job’s final words to God is not a full enough ending for all that has come before. Much more genuine than the “happy ever after ending”, it does not seem quite accurate the Job would cower “in dush and ashes” after receiving such a beautiful tour of God’s wonder, beauty and gifts to humanity. I despise myself and repent in dush and ashes. More likely for “despise” (ma’as) is the word “retract”. This maintains the legal language that has been pervasive throughout storyline. Simlarly, “retract” makes most sense for the same word in Job 34:33 in which the preceeding verses make clear Job is considering taking back what he has said at that stage and then asking, “Well, if I do so, will God still try to sue me? (notice the legal language again). ”Now that Job sees and understands, he retracts his earlier accusations and presumptions.

“Repent” is a valid translation for the Hebrew here (nacham) and a natural correlation to the practice of using “dust and ashes” in the Old Testament, however this word is more often translated “comfort” in the Old Testament. To be sure, this Hebrew conception is that being consoled in God involves repentance, but it is important to rescue the broad, multivalent concept from the pejorative interpretation many 21st century Christians may have. The sense is not that Job turns to self abnegation and groveling, but that, having experienced this courtroom of the heart in which God brings him to see the beautiful relationship that exists between God and creation and that is possible between people and creation, Job stills himself, consoled that he is a beloved part of an exquisite and complex order. He again trusts in God as the origin and sustainer of that creation and even that that creation can again be abundant for him. He is ready to renew his own role in that order.

Printable version

 

To Reflections on other Readings for Year B, Proper 25

Reflections available at the active links
Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary
Revised Common
Lectionary
 
Semi-Continuous Track
Gospel Theme Track
Old Testament
(Hebrew Scripture) Reading:
Job 42: 1-6, 10-17
(this page)
Jeremiah 31: 7-9
Psalm
Psalm 34: 1-8 (19-22)
Psalm 126
New Testament Reading:
Hebrews 5:12 - 6:1, 9-12
Hebrews 7: 23-28
Gospel
Mark 10: 46-52
Mark 10: 46-52

 

The Rev Buff Grace was Rector of Ascension Episcopal Church, Stillwater, MN, when he originally wrote this reflection in 2012 as part of a series to celebrate creation. Buff and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to Buff Grace or any MEESC member, or mail them to:


MEESC
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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This page last updated 2012-08-30.

 
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