Job’s Larger Story

By Thomas Kincaid

I was on an airplane a few weeks back. I was dressed as a priest. I was flying Southwest, and that means open seating. I generally prefer that, but when I’m dressed as a priest, open seating can make me like a guy who walked into a Cowboys home game wearing a Redskins jersey. People look, they whisper, they avoid.

Unless, of course, they don’t, which then has its own set of problems. They see the attire, and their face lights up, and they realize they can trap me, they can seat themselves next to me in this little tube in the sky for the next three hours. Don’t get me wrong, I like people, and I like meeting new people, but this situation never works out well.

Anyway, back to a few weeks ago: I was selected early on by a woman — open seats galore, but she wanted to sit next to the priest. I smiled warmly, and then did exactly what any other middle-aged man does in this situation: I became deeply involved with my phone. As we taxi, she says to me: “Do you know what I believe about God?”

Now, if you haven’t decided yet this morning that I am not the world’s perfect person, I have a confession for you. In my defense, it was early, and I was a bit punchy, and I was ready for a serious conversation with this woman, but I decided: let’s just see if there is any kind of hope for levity in this situation. So, she says, “Do you know what I believe about God?” And I smile and say, “I’ve been just dying to find out.”

She registered neither humor nor, thankfully, offense. She proceeds: “I believe in God. I think he made the world, and that we can choose to be good or evil.” Then she pauses, and says conspiratorially: “But there isn’t anything too special after this life.”

I think for a moment and reply: “Well, you know, a lot of people have wondered about that. You sound a lot like one of the Jewish groups from Jesus’ day. Have you ever heard of the Sadducees?” “Oh, I’m not a Sadducee,” she says. “I’m an Episcopalian.” It was a rough flight.

Jesus’ most famous Jewish opponents of his day are, of course, the Pharisees, so instrumental were they in his crucifixion, but this morning St. Luke’s Gospel has Jesus in a dispute with the Sadducees. Luke reminds us that the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. Perhaps extending the comparison with some Episcopalians further than is comfortable, the Sadducees are insistent about right and proper worship, about good public upstanding moral living, but they don’t believe there’s much after this life.

The specifics of Jesus’ response to them aren’t our primary concern this morning. What’s important for us is not Jesus’ insistence that at the end the dead will be raised, but rather what is more important for us is the kind of perspective that resurrection offers.

The Sadducees are trying to use an improbable example about a woman with many dead husbands to show how awkward resurrected life would be for everyone. But their question demonstrates they don’t really understand how the future resurrection of the dead changes almost everything about human life. They seem to fail to understand that in raising the dead to immortality, God changes the nature of time for human beings and recasts the purpose and orientation of this life.

Those who believe this life is it — that whatever we are given on earth — be it 40, 60, 80, 90, 100 years — those who believe this life is it, they must place all their worth, and all their hopes, in the present age. But for those who are certain there is more yet to come — that eternity is what waits on the other side of the grave — then they know that even 100 years of this life will be but a blink of an eye for their total existence.

Perhaps the strongest biblical example of such a perspective comes from the story of Job.

The quickest of refreshers: Job is a good man, and a successful man. He enters our story with a wife, and a bunch of kids, lots of land, plenty of servants, and thousands of sheep. It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying existence.

Bad things start happening to Job — but for no apparent reason. He doesn’t make bad decisions, but bad stuff comes his way. He loses his servants, his land, his sheep, and his children. Then, shortly thereafter, he contracts some mysterious skin abnormality with painful boils and blisters all over his body.

He, understandably, would like a word with the Almighty. The book is round after round of dialogue with Job pleading with God, and Job’s friends saying pretty much the worst possible things in the circumstances.

We see, in our first reading, Job remains faithful. In response to these friends, Job says they are missing the bigger story. Job’s faithfulness insists that God is also still faithful — that resurrection will someday come and right the wrongs in his life. That’s this morning’s famous line we hear: “I know that my redeemer lives, and he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth; and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God; whom I shall see for myself and not as a stranger.”

Job’s response to his friends — his insistence on eventual resurrection — is Job putting his present troubles in context. Job knows that someday these pains will end because someday he will see God. Someday his flesh, which is covered in painful sores, will be destroyed to be raised again in perfection to be with the Lord.

Job says there is more going on than meets the eye because life is more than we think it is. He changes the perspective on dealing with his plights. His change of perspective doesn’t make the sores hurt any less; doesn’t make him miss the things he lost any less. But he does remain committed: None of these things will last forever, but his life with God will.

The Sadducees were all about getting it perfect in this life — they were about having that perfect public existence. They had no idea what to do with the story of Job. They just couldn’t figure it out. If the Sadducees had Instagram, only professionally produced candids of their perfect life would be acceptable. And all of this was critical to them — because they said this life is all there is.

The Sadducees were similar to Job’s friends — unable to make sense of the evil in the world. But here’s where the Sadducees are different from those friends. Here’s where their story takes the turn. They miss Jesus standing right in front of them.

Job’s friends, in their defense, are working with incomplete information, while the Sadducees are staring at Jesus face to face — they are looking into the eyes of God incarnate — they are looking into the eyes of the kingdom — they are staring at a face that will last forever — and they miss it. They only think in the terms of this life.

Here’s a fact for us: Sometimes in life the hits keep on coming. Sometimes the evil of a broken world that has yet to be fully redeemed comes to live in our home. Sometimes it stays too long. Sometimes, it never really leaves.

The Scriptures make no promises about our preservation from evil in this life, but the gospel does promise that this life is not all there is. The gospel says Job was right: We keep going because God keeps going. We keep going because there is more to come. And what’s more: We can see Jesus. We can see him in the sacrament of the altar; we can see him in the love we have for one another; we can see him in worship; sometimes we can see him in our prayer.

And we know that the latter days are near, and that in that last day our redeemer shall stand upon the earth; and we shall see God.

The Rev. Thomas Kincaid is a priest of the Episcopal Diocese of Dallas.


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