I believe that the conversation matters. If in the attempt to realize the reign of God on earth, we cannot engage one another in respectful and grace-filled dialogue, we might as well not even try.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
I Dig Job!
Thanks to the guidance of the revised common lectionary, I have been digging into the book of Job for the last several weeks more deeply than I ever dug before. And you know what? It is a wonderful book!
I think maybe I had always simply bought into the nickel interpretation without really reflecting on anything deeper. You know the whole God-only-knows-why-bad-things-happen-to-good-people-so-just-shut-up-about-it-and-quit-complaining-you-big-whiner interpretation? But dwelling with Job these past four weeks has been like putting my hand to the flinty rock and overturning mountains by the roots to uncover the precious gems of wisdom contained therein. (see 28:9)
Por ejemplo, in chapter 31, Job’s poetic utterances are in the form of “If/then” statements. In a nutshell, he says that if he had done wrong, then he would understand being punished. Surface level interpretation might say that sentiment reflects the theology that says “bad behavior is punished and good behavior is rewarded,” and just stop there. But when you read the “if” statements alone, you get an idea of what the so called “good” behavior is. In other words, reading Job’s “if” statements gives us a glimpse of what God might require of people who want to be blameless and upright, fearing God and turning away from evil (see 1:1, 1:8, 2:3).
Job’s “if” statements from chapter 31 include:
- Lying (v. 5-8) - Giving in to sexual temptation (v. 9-12) - Oppressing his slaves (v. 13-15) - Sins of omission against the poor (v. 19-23) - Idolatry and greed (v. 24-28) - Contempt for enemies and strangers (v. 29 – 37) - Bad stewardship of the earth (v. 38 – 40)
In particular, the sins of omission against the poor are very illuminating. Please indulge in the following: “If I have withheld anything that the poor desired, or have caused the eyes of the widow to fail, or have eaten my morsel alone, and the orphan has not eaten from it …”
“If I have seen anyone perish for lack of clothing, or a poor person without covering,… who was not warmed with the fleece of my sheep.”
In other words, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?” (1 John 3:17) I answer = “It doesn’t.” The punishment Job describes for these sins of omission is horrific: “…then let my shoulder blade fall from my shoulder, and let my arm be broken from its socket.” (v. 22) Eww, gross! But perhaps the point is that our arms should be extended to the ones in need around us, and if they are not, they might as well not be there at all.
A close reading of Job, therefore, reveals a text that is profoundly meaningful from a social justice perspective. It is a “social holiness” book that weaves together personal piety and communal responsibility in a way that makes it nearly impossible to think about one without the other. And this is only one of the gems we have mined from the book of Job during our weekly Bible study sessions this past month. Pun intended, I dig Job!