Without Christ’s passion, without his death on the cross, man never would have managed to understand the apparent paradox which our Lord expressed in these words:
“If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26).
Image by Felix Merler
By Tim Trainor
In the epilogue of the Book of Job, which we read today, God takes Job’s three friends to task and Job is declared innocent. To reward his virtue God restores all his property to him, twice over.
But, “all’s well that ends well” is not the moral of this Old Testament story. It is that God is the Supreme Creator and man is in all ways always a sinner in need of God’s forgiveness and in need of a relationship with his Creator. Being a good person is not enough for our Father God. He wants man to acknowledge Him as Creator and to enter into a Father/son type of relationship with Him. He wants man to know Him!
The Catechism speaks to us on this subject in paragraph #27: The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he [man] find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for. In permitting suffering, the Catechism also tells us, God has His reasons which man cannot fully grasp. Therefore it is called a mystery “something hidden in God, which can never be known unless revealed by God.”
The Book of Job therefore does not answer the initial question it posed about suffering as no general answer is forthcoming on this topic until the era of the New Testament. It does however advance our knowledge to the position of realizing that: God has wisely but mysteriously disposed that sometimes even the just are made to suffer despite their innocence. But, however, we see that God will eventually reward their virtue. Even though Job’s question remains unanswered, the furthest he (and we) get to is realizing that suffering is part of God’s plan, that it has to be accepted as long as it lasts, and that God does not abandon the sufferer. In this connection it raises other major points which only come later in the New Testament, as we see via Jesus' actions plus His call to each of us in Luke 9:23: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
So yes, there is a happy ending, and the moral is quite clear, even if Job and mankind do not grasp it at this time in history. But, he does realize now the very important point that there is no reason why God should have to account to anyone for what he does. But a man, like Job is free to ask hard questions even though mankind cannot grasp the mysterious ways of divine providence.
New Testament teachings opens up for us a brand new perspective, that of the reward which awaits, in heaven, for those who do God’s will on earth. Job’s suffering, the suffering of a just man who bears it patiently and continues to seek mercy and forgiveness, acquires its fullest meaning in the New Testament. This text of St. Paul provides an answer to Job’s complaints: “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).
In other words, no matter how much we may suffer on earth, it is nothing compared with the vision of God which awaits us in heaven. Job did not realize that the just man does not attain fulfillment through possession of material things and never attains it completely in this life. He also knew nothing about what happens to souls after they leave the body. Happiness and immortality are totally connected to one another, but it took human reason centuries to discover this via the teachings of the Catholic Church!
Without Christ’s passion, without his death on the cross, man never would have managed to understand the apparent paradox which our Lord expressed in these words: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26).
Finally, the ways in which the book of Job portrays and interprets suffering in God’s economy anticipates and prefigures our Lord Jesus. If Job was blameless and upright in his relationship with God, Jesus was even more so. If Job innocently suffered the wrath of God in order to further God’s purposes, defeat the schemes of the Accuser, and prove the all-surpassing worth of knowing God, Jesus did even more so. If Job shows us imperfect but genuine trust in God in inexplicable suffering, Jesus shows us the same theme perfectly in his prayer in garden. And if Job ends with a vision of a universe cleansed of all evil, we see in Jesus how God actually brings Job’s hope about.
In stark contrast to our first reading, our Gospel passage from Luke is full of joy! The seventy-two disciples rejoice on returning from their first fruitful mission. Jesus rejoices with them but warns them not to rejoice in their own power as it were, but to rejoice in the power of the Holy Spirit that was shared with them via His Name. Luke thus underlines the role of the Holy Spirit in not only powering their missionary effort, but, also giving all of us the real possibility of rejoicing that “your names are written in heaven”. The joy of this type of knowledge was something that was totally unknowable to Job and his children in Old Testament times!
It is interesting that this Gospel reading falls on the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, (1873-1897) popularly known as the Little Flower of Jesus. While she was searching for her particular vocation in the Carmelite monastery, she felt strong desires to serve the Lord as a missionary. Later on, upon reading St. Paul, she discovered her particular vocation was to be like “a heart of love” pumping quietly in the secret core of the Church. This discovery brought her immense joy. It was to become known as her “little way” of humble service.
We hear echoes of her “little way” of humble service in our gospel reading when Jesus is genuinely elated by what has happened. He is confirmed in his insistence that God works through the ‘little ones', the children, who 'get' what is going on more than the learned and the clever. God's purposes are being revealed. This is a moment which many generations (I read this as Old Testament people like Job) have been waiting for in vain. But now it has arrived!
Did you notice that Jesus seems unable to contain his own happiness at the Father's showing of himself and The Spirit's power to the 72 “little ones” that He, Jesus, has sent out as Disciples? Do you think that you have ever done some small thing well and thus made God's heart pump faster as St. Therese of Lisieux teaches?
After Jesus listens to their stories, he makes it clear to them that it was not their ability that enabled them to heal the sick or to drive out demons. Rather, it was the grace and power of God! Jesus further cautions the disciples that they should be joyful but not because of their power to heal. Jesus wanted his followers to realize that they were very blessed. Jesus wanted them to know that the power was not their power or ability. It was God’s power working through them that enabled them to work these miracles! Without God they (or us) would have no power!
At times in our lives we may become focused on “what we do” and “how well we do it.” At these times do we stop and acknowledge that it is really God’s power (repeat - God’s power) working through us? Or do we take the credit for it? And here is the tie in to Job - When we have been 'rightous' like Job by doing 'good works', it is natural for us to feel good. However, we need to remember that it is God who is working in us and through us, plus, that the Lord giveth and the Lord may taketh away! But in all: Blessed be the Name of the Lord! So, I need to keep talking frankly and openly to Him as I maintain a childlike trust in my relationship with Him!
Let me close with a word picture of what this relationship might look like: In an account related to St. Teresa of Avila (also called St. Teresa of Jesus: 1515–1582) as she made her way to her convent during a fierce rainstorm, she slipped down an embankment and fell squarely into the mud. The irrepressible Carmelite nun looked up to heaven and admonished her Maker, "If this is how You treat Your friends, no wonder why You have so few of them!"
Only a true friend of God could speak with such familiarity and child like boldness. What I hear her saying is: Dad - Please do a better job of holding my hand! For this reason, among many others, she has endeared herself to many including me because she was not afraid to have tough but real and open conversations with God like Job did!