Jesus and Job
The Gospel: Luke 24:1-49
God has a little boast. God says to the Accuser— we call him Satan—
Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil.
Well, it turns out that Satan the Accuser of people had considered Job, and he says,
Does Job fear God for nothing? 10Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11But stretch out your hand now, and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.
Which is to say Job is not a good person at all. It's all just 'cupboard love.' You watch what happens if you take all his toys away from him!
And the first part of Job Chapter 1 ends like this:
12The Lord said to Satan, ‘Very well, all that he has is in your power; only do not stretch out your hand against him!’
With God's permission, the Accuser takes everything away from Job. His riches are destroyed, his children are killed and, finally, Job is beset by illness. He endures terrible suffering. But he is faithful to God through it all. And at the end of the Book of Job it says: (Chapter 42)
10 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. 11Then 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. 12The 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. 13He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers. 16After this Job lived for one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17And Job died, old and full of days.
Well... there is a recent addition to the Book of Job:
When he was very old, Job came to the Lord, and thanked the Lord for all his riches, and prayed that the Lord would forgive his impertinence, and said, "Lord, what about my first children who were killed? How will you repay them? You brought evil upon them, too. All to make a point with Satan. How will they be repaid?
And the Lord could gave him answer, but Job could not hear it, for it was not yet a time when Humanity could conceive of Resurrection. So Job waited, and died, in hope and longing, saying to his daughters, "My Children, God is all there is. God is my only hope. But I am disappointed, for there seems to be no answer to life except that for many of us it is blood and destruction and unforgivable pain. We can only wait and trust for an answer." (Andrew Prior)
And the world ground on through bloodshed and injustice so terrible that people began to think there was only one hope: Somewhere, somehow, God would renew the world for those who had been faithful, and for the innocents who had suffered. One day they would be raised from the dead and be able to live in peace in a new world. (e.g. see here)
And when Jesus came, people wondered if it was finally about to happen. Because he was different. He connected with people. He treated all people with love and compassion. With him, even if you were the lowest of the low in society's eyes, even if everyone else hated you, even if, apparently, you totally deserved it¸ you were somehow at home. He accepted you. He treated you as a decent human being loved by God. He treated you no differently than he would have treated Job himself.
Except... they were wrong, it seemed, because the Romans and their Jewish collaborators, and even the people who had longed for Messiah to come, had all teamed up in Jerusalem and had him killed. And the ordinary poor people of the day were left on their own as usual.
So Cleopas and his friend are going home. Jesus is dead. It is all over. The world is as 'Job' said, blood, destruction, and unforgivable pain. We had hoped "Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people... was the one to set Israel free," Cleopas said to someone they met on the way home. "But he's dead. Some women came from the tomb and said it was empty and that angels said he was risen, but they were delirious*. He's dead."
But the stranger disagrees, and "beginning with Moses and all the prophets" he reinterprets their world for them. He paints an entirely different way of seeing reality. He paints a picture of the world where, even in their grief and distress, they see again the vision of the renewal and the completion of creation, and of all that is, which they had begun to glimpse in the presence of Jesus. It's almost as if he's back with them again.
And so they invite him to stay the night, and as they sit at table he breaks the bread as Jesus used to break it— and they realise that in this stranger Jesus himself has come to them; it is him, he is raised from the dead, and they realise the world will be renewed... there will be justice for everyone, not just for the lucky few— you can imagine the implications falling over each other in their minds as they struggle to take it all in. They race back to Jerusalem to tell the others and find Jesus has appeared even to Peter, the one who had denied him, and as they share their story, Jesus comes to them again.
If you go home and re-read Luke Chapter 24, you will find something interesting. The appearance to Peter gets 11 words (in English). Just 11. That's because the story of Peter is saying that Jesus appears even to those of us who let him down in the worst way. The main story, the defining story of Luke's Easter appearances, is the story of the Emmaus Road, which is more than 400 words!
And if you thought the moment they recognised Jesus sounded suspiciously like a Communion Service, you would be right. Luke is telling us that the way to meet the Risen Lord is to be gathered around the table for the breaking of bread. Not in some way that makes the bread and wine into something almost magic, but in the sense that when we live out the new reality that he shows us, then we are able to see him... although there are times when we don't.
I said that on the way home to Emmaus Jesus painted an entirely different way of seeing reality. The Way, is the Gospel story, the one that tells us about loving all people despite the cost— all people. What that means is that here, in Hare Street, if we were to keep out the unlovely people, and the difficult and scary ones, and the smelly ones, and the noisy ones— all those people who make being church hard work— then we would probably be turning Jesus away, too.
When we invite the strangers into the church, all those odd people who make us uncomfortable, then what we are doing is breaking bread at table in the way Jesus did. And Jesus will be there, unrecognised in the strangers, and then suddenly present to our eyes.
I think this is what Jesus was talking about, this new world which is so different to what we experience, and it's why they killed him. The rich and powerful of the day didn't want to lose their power and privilege.
But what about Job?
Job was rejoicing... because now he could understand what the Lord had told him so long ago. Resurrection means not only that Jesus is raised, and that you and I are raised. It means that Job's children, so mercilessly destroyed, are also raised to new life. Resurrection means that Creation will be completed, and made good and just for all creatures, even those who were at the bottom. Even for those who were evil among us. Even for me.... and you... who have also lacked goodness.
We do not know how this can be. We cannot even imagine how such a thing could happen. It makes no sense in a world where bloodshed and exclusion is the way to power. But we can learn in this place here, the same thing discovered by Jesus' original disciples: When you are in his presence, when you meet him, you know that death does not destroy us, evil does not win in the end, and life will go on.
In my little addition to the Book of Job, Job says, "We can only wait and trust for an answer." In fact, we can do more. We can break bread together. We can begin to live out the reality Jesus showed us in his love of all people, and he will appear to us— have we not seen this already? Amen.
Andrew Prior (Easter 2019)
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
* The word translated as "idle tale" by the NRSV is leros. Can you see how we may have ended up with the word delirious? [I owe this to David Lose: "Luke says that those who received the testimony of the women regarded their message as an “idle tale.” That’s actually a fairly generous translation of the Greek work leros. That word, you see, is the root of our word “delirious.” So in short, they thought what the women said was crazy, nuts, utter nonsense."]