Imagine Bartimaeus sitting blind and alone beside the road as Jesus and his disciples walked past. He knew who Jesus was: he called him “Son of David” and “teacher” (Rabbouni in Aramaic), but he couldn’t see him. He had lost his vision. But when Bartimaeus called out to Jesus, he regained his sight. Isn’t it interesting that Mark chose the active verb “regained” to describe Bartimaeus’ transformation? Mark did not say that Jesus healed Bartimaeus or even that “his sight was restored.” The evangelist says only that Bartimaeus called out… and that Jesus responded with a word of hope. And immediately, Bartimaeus regained his sight. His faith had made him well.
And then there’s our friend Job. What do we know about Job’s story? A few things: we know it’s the story of a man sorely tested by God. Job knew who God was… and never lost faith in God’s sovereignty, despite great hardship and poor advice from family and friends. Job couldn’t understand why God would test him so harshly. We know that Job got pretty testy with God, but that everything came out all right—and more than all right—in the end. Many biblical scholars believe that the story of Job takes place after the Fall… and the Flood… but before Abraham and Moses… so sometime between 2350 and 1750 BCE. That’s a long time ago! Certainly, the story was transmitted orally, along with much of what would later become the Torah, through the centuries leading up to the Babylonian Captivity, when it was written down by Hebrew scribes as part of the effort to explain what in the world had brought the Jews to this calamitous extreme… and the life changes they would have to make to ensure it never happened again! We know it’s a pretty long story (42 Chapters), a mixture of narrative and poetry, rich and complex, and probably further developed and refined over the course of several centuries to meet the catechetical needs of the Temple hierarchy. The first couple of chapters set the scene: who Job was, the wager between God and Satan and the utter calamity that befell Job’s life. Then come thirty-nine chapters of argument and lament… thirty-nine chapters of Job and Job’s friends and God going around and around about who gets to be angry… and who gets to be in charge… and who gets to complain… and who does God think he is to allow this sort of suffering… and who does Job think he is to feel sorry for himself, or wonder why bad things happen to good people. Then, in today’s reading from the final chapter, the dispute is resolved, in a manner of speaking: Job relents (rests his case) and bends the knee to the God who had allowed the calamity to occur in the first place.
The lectionary only gives us snippets of the story stretched out over four weeks, so I’ll play you a song, actually a trilogy of songs, to remind you of the poetry and context of the Book of Job.
Michael Card: “Job Suite”
It’s quite a story, isn’t it? The writer of the Letter of James would later encourage readers to exercise “the patience of Job” (5:11 KJV) when faced with adversity, remembering that God is compassionate and merciful, and that we will be rewarded for our faith in the end. We can thank the King James Bible for translating the Greek word ὑπομονή (hoo-po-mon-ay’) as patience. In fact, a more faithful translation of the Greek would be persistence or endurance (cf. James 5:7-11 NRSV). That’s more helpful to me, I think. Job wasn’t “patient” in his affliction—he had been blindsided… and he ranted… and railed at God, demanding answers. Why? Why? And God didn’t tell him why. God simply reminded Job in no uncertain terms that there was a purpose behind his travail that transcended human understanding. And Job got it. Though he was never able to truly understand God’s purposes, in the end, he trusted—he had faith—that there was a purpose, and that faith provided him with a degree of clarity about his place in the grand scheme of things… and comfort in the hope of salvation. As we read Job’s story, we are reminded of our own stories: of those periods of grueling hardship in our lives when we are tempted to question the purpose behind our suffering. And perhaps, like Job, we find comfort in spirited and persistent dialogue with our Creator. And, my friends, it’s OK if we rant and rail to God. It’s a sign of our belief. What use would it be to rail against some nonexistent entity? No… we’re deeply offended that a living, loving God would allow such misery to befall us.
But Job and Bartimaeus both learned something important from their “close encounters” with God. Their separate ordeals “opened their eyes” to the realization that God is God and we are not, and also another thing: that which is not of God can be redeemed by God, if only we will have faith. Indeed, the ordeals in our lives invite us… sometimes compel us… into a deeper relationship with our Creator. And as difficult and as painful as that may be, I wonder sometimes if that’s not part of the painful purpose of our sojourn here on earth.