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Job 42:1-6, 10-17

The Old Testament Passage for today is the final episode of the three-part Old Testament lection mini-series from the book of Job. Two weeks ago, the Old Testament reading featured one of Job’s responses to one of his friends. In that speech, Job longs for the chance to confront God and lay out his case, demanding answers concerning the direction his life has gone. Last week, God showed up and we were provided with a portion of God’s opening statement/answer to Job from the whirlwind, challenging Job’s assumptions and accusations. This week, we read the conclusion of the story; Job’s final response and his restoration. Before diving into the text itself, I think it is important to put it in context, both within the book itself as well as within the lectionary. Let’s start with the latter.

It is my hope that you will craft the sermon this week (and every week, for that matter) in a way that leads the congregation to the Lord’s table. An Old Testament text pulled from the book of Job may not at first glance seem the best choice for leading your congregation to partake in the Eucharist. This, as I will argue, could not be further from the truth. In fact, the book of Job is one of the sorts of places in scripture we ought to be taking our congregations more often in preparation to receive the Eucharist.

Some criticize the lectionary because it does not cover the entirety of Scripture in its cycle. Such criticism betrays a misunderstanding of the purpose of the lectionary (and the weekly liturgy assumed by the lectionary). Many Protestant denominations and groups emphasize the word of God preached as the center of the liturgy. The Revised Common Lectionary, however, assumes that the Eucharist is the center of Christian worship. The telos of the Revised Common Lectionary and its intended context of worship every eighth day is not to convey helpful information about or abstract knowledge of the Bible. Even though teaching is a small part of the liturgy, the celebration of the liturgy is not primarily a teaching moment. Instead, in line with its assumptions regarding worship, the purpose of the lectionary, the very reason it was crafted, is to point to the mystery of Christ in the Eucharist. The point of the liturgy is an encounter with the resurrected Jesus made manifest in the Eucharist. Understanding this about the lectionary helps us each week to see how the first reading and the gospel reading fit together, rather than just using the lectionary for choosing a pericope “without bias” for preaching.

Now, we can begin to see why the book of Job is actually such a fitting text for leading the assembly to the Lord’s Table. We believe that, in the incarnation, God was fully revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. In Colossians, Paul says that Jesus is the image of the invisible God.[1] When we see Jesus, we see God. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God the Father raises significant questions about what kind of god it is that we claim to worship. If, as we so readily acknowledge on Sunday mornings, this peasant from the backwoods community of Nazareth, who was accused of blasphemy by the religious leaders and insurrection by the political leaders of his day and subsequently executed, was raised and vindicated by God, then the God we claim to worship is one intimately familiar with suffering. We are so bold to proclaim that the God of Job, the God who is wholly other, came near to us in the broken body of Jesus of Nazareth.

In his book Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire, William Cavanaugh draws out the theological implications of Jesus parable of the last judgment. In Matthew 25, Jesus separates those who will inherit the kingdom from those who will not. To those who will inherit the kingdom, Jesus says, “…I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” The righteous ask in response when they saw Jesus and did such things for him. Jesus responds that whenever they did it for the least of his brothers and sisters, they did it for him. Cavanaugh points out that, “What is radical about this passage is not that God rewards those who help the poor; what is truly radical is that Jesus identifies himself with the poor.”[2] The God revealed in Jesus Christ does not stand above suffering, neither as its cause nor as a spectator, but is present in the midst of suffering as the sufferer!

In the Eucharist, we are invited to partake in the broken body and spilled blood of Jesus Christ. In our consumption of the elements, however, it is actually we who are consumed, assimilated into the body of Christ. Cavanaugh argues that “becoming the body of Christ entails that we must become food for others…This often means moving beyond our own communities and comfort zones…In the Eucharist, Christ is gift, giver, and recipient; we are simultaneously fed and become food for others…The pain of the hungry person is the pain of Christ, and thus it is the pain of anyone who is a member of the body of Christ.”[3] When we read the book of Job, we should be aware that it is not our task to try and explain the origins of evil in the created world. It is not our task to defend God (or, if we pay attention to Job, our ideas of God). Rather, our task as the body of Christ is to pick up where the friends began; present to Job in the midst of his sufferings, sitting on the ash heap, because that is where Christ says he is and will be.

[1] Col. 1:15 [2] Cavanaugh, William T. Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008. p. 55-56 [3] Ibid.