26th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday (Year II)
Job 19:21-27; Psalm 27
Are suffering and misfortune a sign of God’s wrath upon a sinner? Such a belief plagued the ancient world and hurled Job into a pit of scorn and derision from his neighbors (Job 12:4-5).
Jesus sought to remove this poison from the minds of his contemporaries:
As he passed by he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him (John 9:1-3).
At that time some people who were present there told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. He said to them in reply, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were greater sinners than all other Galileans? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did! Or those eighteen people who were killed when the tower at Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than everyone else who lived in Jerusalem? By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!” (Luke 13:1-5)
Job’s response to his plight is unusual in that he continually insisted on his own integrity. The author of Job affirms his blamelessness from the start, a pronouncement of God himself in the courts of heaven (Job 1:8).
Thus Job wants to face God in a court of law and duke it out.
I would set out my case before him,
fill my mouth with arguments (Job 23:4).
Job is so confident that he imagines a victory in a case against God:
Would he contend against me with his great power?
No, he himself would heed me!
There an upright man might argue with him,
and I would once and for all be delivered from my judge.
…if he tested me, I should come forth like gold (Job 23:6-7; 10).
Contrast St. Paul:
I am not conscious of anything against me, but I do not thereby stand acquitted; the one who judges me is the Lord (I Corinthians 4:4).
Job’s request for vindication seems so alien to the Christian narrative that many interpreters reject a Christological interpretation of Job’s “vindicator” (gaal or goel), made famous by Handel’s Messiah (I know that my redeemer liveth).
As for me, I know that my vindicator lives,
and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust.
This will happen when my skin has been stripped off,
and from my flesh I will see God:
I will see for myself,
my own eyes, not another’s, will behold him:
my inmost being is consumed with longing (Job 19:25-27).
A Christ figure, according to the logic of those who reject that interpretation, would not vindicate Job’s righteousness. Job would have to be, as his friends and neighbors insist, a wretched sinner for Christ to vindicate or redeem him. Christ did not come to uphold humankind’s innocence but to “die for sinners,” goes the logic.
Those who insist that Job’s living goel is not a foreshadowing of Christ offer other options. In Hebrew, the word for “vindicator” comes from the verb goel (to redeem, ransom, or act as kinsman). As a verb, it applied to buying back a field (Leviticus 25:25; Ruth 4:4, 6), something consecrated (Leviticus 27:13), or a slave (Leviticus 25:48-49). As a role, the goel in the Mosaic law was a kinsman go-between in legal matters, even a blood avenger who pursued the murderer of his slain relative (Numbers 35; Deuteronomy 19:6-7). The goel stepped in on behalf of another who was slain, wronged, or oppressed.
According to the New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote: “The meaning of this passage is obscure because the original text has been poorly preserved and the ancient versions do not agree among themselves. Job asserts three times that he shall see a future vindicator (Hebrew goel), but he leaves the time and manner of this vindication undefined. The Vulgate translation has Job indicating a belief in resurrection after death, but the Hebrew and the other ancient versions are less specific.”
Some of the options that have been proposed as the identity of the goel include: (1) God himself; (2) a kinsman; (3) a member of the heavenly council. The first option is deemed implausible in a court scene in which God is the defendant.
The last option is alluded to by Eliphaz:
Call now! Will anyone respond to you?
To which of the holy ones will you turn?” (See footnote to Job 5:1).
Elihu also entertains this possibility:
If then there be a divine messenger,
a mediator, one out of a thousand,
to show him what is right,
He will take pity on him and say,
“Deliver him from going down to the pit;
I have found him a ransom” (Job 33:23-24).
Within the parameters of philology, history and related fields, a Christological allusion may be a leap far beyond the text. However, reading Sacred Scripture through the lens of Christ was characteristically patristic.
All sacred Scripture is but one book, and this one book is Christ, “because all divine Scripture speaks of Christ, and all divine Scripture is fulfilled in Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church 134 quoting Hugh of St. Victor).
Perhaps Job’s insistence on getting a fair hearing opposite God in the heavenly court, instead of ruling out a Christological connection, might offer another angle on the strange events of the Incarnation, Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
Job’s world divided humankind into clean and unclean, righteous and unrighteous, blessed and cursed, etc. Caste-like divisions have no place in the Incarnation since the Son of God assumed humanity as one, universal Adam. All persons, including Job, are “ransomed,” to use Pauline language.
Job’s insistence on his righteousness before God might sound questionable (even Pharisaic) in another context, but in the narrative God himself confirmed it at the outset. One purpose of this insistence is to show that Job’s suffering is not due to personal sin.
Can the blameless Job long for Christ? Why not? The God-Man made it possible for human persons to see God “in the flesh” and “face to face”—a living icon. The infinite distance between earth and heaven that so frustrated Job was bridged in the person of the Son of God. Union and communion in and through Christ puts an end to all contention with the divine, the foundation of which is separation from God. Union silences all thought and speech.
The goal of Christianity is deification, which completes the initial cancellation of a debt or payment of a ransom. It is nothing less than the divinization of human nature—an unheard-of union with the consubstantial Trinity via the theandric God-Man. “For the Son of God became man so that we might become God” (St. Athanasius).
Job’s “righteousness” ends with moral rectitude (obedience to laws and rituals) but does not proceed to deification and ontological transformation. Heaven is imagined as a court with books, records, and words carved in stone:
Oh, would that my words were written down!
Would that they were inscribed in a record:
That with an iron chisel and with lead
they were cut in the rock forever! (Job 19:23-24)
How might Job respond to Jesus who said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)?
Job’s innocent suffering evokes a wonder that leaps beyond history to the timeless depths of the Cross event. Christ, as the Son of God, at no point left the eternal perichoresis of divinity. The primordial kenosis (self-emptying of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has no link to creation or history.
Christ showed us the way to fulfill our true nature as persons in communion, the distortion of which is sin (egotism). Job and his friends did not view the fragmentation of humanity itself as a deficiency. They were content to be religiously observant and law-abiding members of society.
Humankind is essentially one. The sin Christ destroyed is singular: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Sin is separation and alienation.
The Cross is an expression in time of the Son’s timeless self-gift in his divine being—an immutable kenosis deeper than creation and redemption. Christ’s pure act of non-retaliatory love on the Cross manifested Trinitarian perichoresis in history.
This reflection has wandered far beyond the text of Job and is not an attempt at biblical interpretation. Whatever “vindicator” means in the original text, one thing is certain: Job is confident that he will “see God” (Job 19:26).
I believe that I shall see the bounty of the LORD
in the land of the living.
Wait for the LORD with courage;
be stouthearted, and wait for the LORD (Psalm 27:13-14).