Sunday, February 04, 2018

Job’s Transforming Encounter with God

(Fifth Sunday of the Year (B): This homily was given on February 4, 2018, at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read Job 7: 1-4, 6-7; 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23; Matthew 1: 29-39.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifth Sunday 2018]

One day a reporter was interviewing an 80-year-old woman who had just gotten married for the fourth time.  Sadly, her first three husbands had all passed away.  The reporter asked her questions about her life, about what it felt like to be marrying again at 80, and then about her new husband’s occupation.

“He’s a funeral director,” she answered.

The reporter thought to himself, “Well, that’s interesting.”

He then asked her if she wouldn’t mind telling him a little bit about her first three husbands and what each of them had done for a living.  She explained that she had first married a banker when she was in her 20s, a circus ringmaster when she was in her 40s, a preacher when she was in her 60s, and now, in her 80s, a funeral director.

The reporter said to her, “Wow, that’s amazing—four men with such diverse careers!”

She smiled and said, “Well, you see, I married one for the money, two for the show, three to get ready and four to go.”

Fr. Mac from St. Vincent’s and Our Lady of Victory sent me that a few years ago.  I always knew I’d be able to use it in a homily someday!

I use it this morning because even though it’s an amusing story, it does have a very serious background.  That 80-year-old newlywed had three major losses (that we know of) to deal with in her life, namely, the banker, the ringmaster and the pastor.  But I’m sure she also had to deal with many other losses during her 80 years on planet earth: the loss of other family members and friends to death; the loss of some of her independence; the loss of her ability to physically do certain things; maybe even the loss of some of her cognitive abilities. 

But at least these losses were spread out over a number of years (actually a number of decades).  Poor old Job suffered all of his losses in a single day!

Most of us, I’m sure, know at least the basic outline of Job’s story.  The Bible tells us that he was a deeply religious man, “who feared God and avoided evil”.  He was also quite wealthy.  And for many years he led a very happy life; that is, until the day when he literally lost almost everything!  First, his herds and flocks were either destroyed or stolen; then his ten children died when a house collapsed on them during a severe windstorm; and, finally, he was afflicted with a terrible disease that left his entire body covered with painful boils.

After all these disasters the only one Job has left in his family is Mrs. Job, but she proves to be no help at all.  At one point early in the story she actually tells her husband to “Curse God and die.” (Obviously, Mrs. Job never received the “Wife of the Year Award”!) 

Three of Job’s closest friends then come on the scene “to give him sympathy and comfort.”  However, all they end up giving him is a lot of bad advice, more aggravation—and probably a really big headache (which was the last thing the poor guy needed at the time!).

It’s in the midst of all this intense suffering that Job utters the famous words we heard in today’s first reading: “Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?  Are not his days those of a hireling?  He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages.  So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. . . . My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle; they come to an end without hope.  Remember that my life is like the wind; I shall not see happiness again.”

Finally, Job goes right to the top.  After he hears from his friends, who basically tell him that he must have done something wrong to bring all this evil upon himself, Job cries out to God and presses him for an explanation.  He knows he hasn’t sinned in a serious way, so he wants to know why the Lord has allowed him to experience all these trials.

And God responds!  Job calls, and the Lord shows up.  But instead of answering Job’s question, God asks some questions of his own!  He says, “Where were you, Job, when I created the earth?  Tell me, if you have understanding.  Who determined its size; do you know?  Who stretched out the measuring line for it?”  And on and on the Lord goes for four chapters.  His basic message to Job is, “Do you think you’re smarter than I am?  Do you understand creation and everything in it?  Can you make an eagle fly or give a horse its strength?  These are things that are beyond your capacity to understand.  And so is your present situation.”

The final chapter of the book then begins with Job saying these words to the Lord: “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be hindered.  I have dealt with great things that I do not understand; things too wonderful for me, which I cannot know.”  Then comes what I would call the “key line” of the book.  Job says, “I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you.  Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.”

“I had heard of you by word of mouth, but now my eye has seen you.”

Job’s experience of loss—his terrible, excruciating experience of loss and suffering—became the occasion of a life-changing encounter with God.

Which is the point I want to drive home today in this homily.

Now don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying that Job’s encounter with the Lord took away all his pain and made him forget about his children and his other losses.  No, I’m saying that in the midst of all that suffering, Job had the opportunity to meet God in a personal and powerful way—and he did.

And he was greatly blessed because of that encounter.  It changed him!  It didn’t change God; it changed Job.

Many people think of suffering as an obstacle to meeting the Lord and having a close relationship with him, but Job shows us otherwise.  Job shows us that suffering can actually be the occasion for starting, or renewing, or strengthening our relationship with God.

Some of you know this, I’m sure, from your own experience.  How many people have either come to Christ, or come back to Christ, or deepened their faith in Christ after they’ve experienced a terrible tragedy in their lives?

I’ve seen that kind of thing happen lots of times over the years.

So the bottom line is this:

Many people suffer—like Job did.
Many people suffer while living a good, moral life—like Job did.
Many people suffer with little or no human support—like Job did.
Many people question God and his ways—like Job did.
But relatively few people encounter God in their suffering—like Job did.

Let’s pray today that we will be among those few.