This week – the first reading for Mass has come from the Hebrew Scriptures book of Job.  This book has been of particular fascination to me since college.  One of my theology professor’s, Fr. Thomas Dailey, OSFS, did his dissertation on this book and published a book on it and a course on it called The Triumph over Absurdity.  The scripture is of particular meaning for people wrestling with the question of suffering and why do bad things happen to good people.  I thought I’d share some of my thoughts with the passages from Job from the week:


Job 1:6-22

One day, when the angels of God came to present themselves before the LORD,
Satan also came among them.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Whence do you come?”
Then Satan answered the LORD and said,
“From roaming the earth and patrolling it.”
And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you noticed my servant Job,
and that there is no one on earth like him,
blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil?”
But Satan answered the LORD and said,
“Is it for nothing that Job is God-fearing?
Have you not surrounded him and his family
and all that he has with your protection?
You have blessed the work of his hands,
and his livestock are spread over the land.
But now put forth your hand and touch anything that he has,
and surely he will blaspheme you to your face.”
And the LORD said to Satan,
“Behold, all that he has is in your power;
only do not lay a hand upon his person.”
So Satan went forth from the presence of the LORD.

And so one day, while his sons and his daughters
were eating and drinking wine
in the house of their eldest brother,
a messenger came to Job and said,
“The oxen were ploughing and the asses grazing beside them,
and the Sabeans carried them off in a raid.
They put the herdsmen to the sword,
and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
While he was yet speaking, another came and said,
“Lightning has fallen from heaven
and struck the sheep and their shepherds and consumed them;
and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
While he was yet speaking, another messenger came and said,
“The Chaldeans formed three columns,
seized the camels, carried them off,
and put those tending them to the sword,
and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
While he was yet speaking, another came and said,
“Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine
in the house of their eldest brother,
when suddenly a great wind came across the desert
and smote the four corners of the house.
It fell upon the young people and they are dead;
and I alone have escaped to tell you.”
Then Job began to tear his cloak and cut off his hair.
He cast himself prostrate upon the ground, and said,

“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I go back again.
The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;
blessed be the name of the LORD!”

In all this Job did not sin,
nor did he say anything disrespectful of God.

Whenever the readings from the book of Job come along, that they seem to resonate with either personal experiences or global ones. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons scriptures really are timeless. Here’s a book that comes from well over 3,000 years ago and it still is as relevant today as it was when it was first written. Particularly if we’re feeling in a particularly bleak mindset. The point of the book is to give an introduction to the mystery of evil.

It starts – strangely enough – with a bet between God and Satan. God and Satan have this discussion and God points to Job as one of the finest examples of integrity. Satan bets he can get Job to curse God. God is confident enough in Job’s integrity to let Satan try.
It’s probably a good time to point out that all of scripture is truth and speaks the truth of God. But not all scripture is historical record. So were not to treat this as a historical retelling of an actual event, but rather a divine message to explain things of universal importance. We’re going to be hearing from this book for the next few days – but it is well worth reading in its entirety.
When faced with the impersonal and very personal effects of evil – Job is afflicted by weather, by human action – which destroys every blessing in his life – what will be Job – the man of integrity’s response? What is any person’s response to the question of suffering? Particularly as Satan’s efforts seem relentless. We will hear from Job and his friends various responses which will be varied and difficult. But they at least open the conversation.
So it is for us. And maybe that’s the invitation this week as we enter into this scripture. So often our impulse is to want to ignore or numb ourselves to the pain of evil in our lives. Job invites us to not look away… to identify areas of pain and suffering. And then to ask where is God in the midst of it all.


Job 3:1-3, 11-17, 20-23

Job opened his mouth and cursed his day.
Job spoke out and said:

Perish the day on which I was born,
the night when they said, “The child is a boy!”

Why did I not perish at birth,
come forth from the womb and expire?
Or why was I not buried away like an untimely birth,
like babes that have never seen the light?
Wherefore did the knees receive me?
or why did I suck at the breasts?

For then I should have lain down and been tranquil;
had I slept, I should then have been at rest
With kings and counselors of the earth
who built where now there are ruins
Or with princes who had gold
and filled their houses with silver.

There the wicked cease from troubling,
there the weary are at rest.

Why is light given to the toilers,
and life to the bitter in spirit?
They wait for death and it comes not;
they search for it rather than for hidden treasures,
Rejoice in it exultingly,
and are glad when they reach the grave:
Those whose path is hidden from them,
and whom God has hemmed in!

Yesterday I mentioned that when we encounter the book of Job, which deals with the mystery of suffering, of loss, of pain, that our impulse is to run from those things, to numb ourselves from those things and that Job invites us not to look away.
In today’s reading, we see how hard that is to do. To look at human suffering. Because Job doesn’t give us beautiful, poetic reflection on how suffering is redemptive. He kind of blows up the chorus of well-meaning, well intention but inappropriate lines that some might say at a funeral like “well there in a better place” or to someone who’s going through some intense difficulty “Gold is only purified in fire.” Job doesn’t sound like he’d want to hear any of that, does he? : Perish the day I was born – Why did I not perish at birth? These are the cries of one in pain. These are cries that probably many can relate to on some level.
It’s by providence that these readings fall on the day we celebrate the Guardian Angels. These ancient beliefs – not just Christian belief but even Judeo-Christian (Adam and Eve were directed by Cherubim; Moses follows an angel in Exodus) we believe that these messengers from God are sent to help and assist us. These heavenly aids aren’t always so dramatically revealed to us; and might not seem as obvious to us as the pains, the trials and sufferings we endure. Which is why the day to day conversion is so important. That we recognize the importance of delving deeper into a relationship with Jesus Christ as an ongoing, every day thing. So that we can reflect, give thanks and underline those moments where we do have a divine encounter – where God’s presence and activity are made obvious and real to us – which helps us to persevere in those times where he seems distant, removed and unresponsive to our cries. It’s a life of faith that allows us to utter those cries of desperation as Job does that gets that real and raw as “perishing” the day of birth but knowing that our God hears those cries … and enables us to wait on Him to respond – rather than giving into that despair. It’s then that we understand Good Friday on a personal level, and wait in hope to experience Easter Sunday.

Job 9:1-12, 14-16

Job answered his friends and said:

I know well that it is so;
but how can a man be justified before God?
Should one wish to contend with him,
he could not answer him once in a thousand times.
God is wise in heart and mighty in strength;
who has withstood him and remained unscathed?

He removes the mountains before they know it;
he overturns them in his anger.
He shakes the earth out of its place,
and the pillars beneath it tremble.
He commands the sun, and it rises not;
he seals up the stars.

He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads upon the crests of the sea.
He made the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south;
He does great things past finding out,
marvelous things beyond reckoning.

Should he come near me, I see him not;
should he pass by, I am not aware of him;
Should he seize me forcibly, who can say him nay?
Who can say to him, “What are you doing?”

How much less shall I give him any answer,
or choose out arguments against him!
Even though I were right, I could not answer him,
but should rather beg for what was due me.
If I appealed to him and he answered my call,
I could not believe that he would hearken to my words.

This past Saturday night we had our Midnight Run, our opportunity to serve, to meet and interact with some of the homeless in NYC. One of the blessings that these types of service events have done for me throughout my life – starting in college – was really altering my perspective about the homeless. Growing up, living in a safe, affluent community -that my parents worked hard for so that my brothers and I could do so – one thing that I know they didn’t intend to do, but it happened anyway – was that the homeless were people to be feared. In my mind they had done something or were continuing to do something that contributed to their being in that condition, that state. And so the homeless or those begging on the street simply became individuals to be feared, to kind of avoid all together (or at least not to make eye contact with).
The first time working at a soup kitchen in college was something that I was anxious about and almost bailed on. But that Catholic guilt (another thing my parents had blessed me with) which reminded me that I had signed up to do it so I needed to fulfill my commitment forced me to do it. And just meeting and hearing some stories where people shared their thanks, their appreciation… learning that some weren’t homeless – but that they came to the soup kitchen for one good meal a day since they couldn’t afford much else because their job didn’t pay a lot – they had to pay their rent and maybe some family tragedy had tapped their resources more then they could imagine. There were people who were struggling with drug addiction and mental illness too. But that experience, and the ones we’ve had since, help to break down that wall, that idea that they deserve what they got – that somehow they were responsible for their lot in life. Yes some made bad decisions, but don’t we all. And they were able to humble themselves and seek and ask for help, why wouldn’t we want to give it? The homeless ceased to be “other” – they were just people who needed help and I felt really humbled that it had taken so long for me to get to a place where I was even able to offer it.
The scriptures are trying to get us to that point today. Where we don’t see material goods as validation or affirmation by God for our goodness (and their absence as a curse) – where we don’t look at the deaths, the illnesses, the set backs in life that way either. Job is in the middle of that storm – where he went from being materially rich, having a happy home, family and friends to feeling very much abandoned. And we can hear his confusion wondering Why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God in the middle of that storm?
In the Gospel Jesus calling his disciples to abandon their comforts, their relationships and to follow him is reminding us that relationship with Him doesn’t guarantee us any of those comforts, nor is it an insurance policy against bad things happening. But instead is trying to fixate what should be our priority in life. Jesus is reminding us that those things – which so many of us spend so much time and energy looking to accumulate and protect can be lost in the blink of an eye – as Job has experienced. But the Love of God – which loved us into existence; which sustains us in this very moment – (just think about the complexity of how our bodies even operate that we’re even here right now, that we had no part in making happen and praise God, everything is still working that we’re here breathing and listening ) and is our destiny.. That is our priority. In this moment, and for all eternity. And one way we experience the love of God and participate in it, in this space in between this moment and that destiny, is in being attentive to the Job’s in our midst – those suffering and looking for signs that God hasn’t abandoned them.

Job 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5

The LORD addressed Job out of the storm and said:

Have you ever in your lifetime commanded the morning
and shown the dawn its place
For taking hold of the ends of the earth,
till the wicked are shaken from its surface?
The earth is changed as is clay by the seal,
and dyed as though it were a garment;
But from the wicked the light is withheld,
and the arm of pride is shattered.

Have you entered into the sources of the sea,
or walked about in the depths of the abyss?
Have the gates of death been shown to you,
or have you seen the gates of darkness?
Have you comprehended the breadth of the earth?
Tell me, if you know all:
Which is the way to the dwelling place of light,
and where is the abode of darkness,
That you may take them to their boundaries
and set them on their homeward paths?
You know, because you were born before them,
and the number of your years is great!

Then Job answered the LORD and said:

Behold, I am of little account; what can I answer you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
Though I have spoken once, I will not do so again;
though twice, I will do so no more.

After a week where we’ve been hearing the story of Job – we finally hear God respond to the cries, the confusion, the questions that have plagued the man of integrity. And while the response is a magnificent, poetic description of the immensity and omnipotence of God… Job is left with no explanation for his suffering. It remains a mystery to him. In tomorrow’s final passage, Job is restored to an even better position than he had before all his calamities.

Our modern psychological sensitivities might protest that the experience would have left Job with deep emotional scars and a lasting distrust of the Almighty. The story doesn’t see it that way. The ending is a “happily ever after” affair. This can be frustrating to us because the mystery of suffering is left unresolved.

But remember, this isn’t a historical record. It’s meant to tell a story – and reveal a deeper truth. The wager between God and Satan was about Job’s faithfulness and God wins, even though suffering remains a reality, whether deliberately or impersonally inflicted.

Which ultimately leaves us with one of the classic questions in all of human reflection on God and the mystery of human suffering: “How can a good and loving God who is as omnipotent as described in Job ‘let’ such things happen?” We run into a thousand more questions about who “deserves” to suffer and who doesn’t, and what about our gift of free will and determinism, etc. etc.

Job’s purpose isn’t to enter into the philosophical debate. It’s a theological one. Calling us to remain faithful even if we can and do protest, cry, worry, and are frustrated. For our Jewish ancestors, this simply left them with an acknowledgment to the reality of the cruelity of suffering, but with a hope that God sees and rewards faithfulness. For us Christians, we know that God doesn’t simply witness our pains… but subjected himself to the human condition with the complexities of evil in our midst which ultimately resulted in Jesus’ suffering and death. But God choosing that proves his ultimate victory over Satan, over evil, over suffering, over sin, over death in Jesus Christ. That’s not a story – that is history, and it’s ours too, if we imitate Job’s faithfulness in following Jesus Christ.