By The Rev. Deacon Joe Dzugan
March 26th, 2023
Lectio Divina – Divine or Sacred Reading-(Download)
Lover of the poor, defender of the needy, sanctuary of the rejected: for those who suffer injustice today, for men and women who cannot provide food for their families, and for whole communities who fear today and have no hope for tomorrow, we offer the longings of our hearts in prayer. We seek for them, O God, the gifts that are dear to us: food for the table, drink for the soul, shelter in the night, and open arms to welcome us.
- J. Philip Newell, Celtic Treasure – Daily Scriptures and Prayer, p. 84.
Part IV - “Wisdom Stories”
[“Inspired – Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” by Rachel Held Evans.]
Live a righteous life and you will prosper. Live an unrighteous one and you will suffer.
It’s a simple concept, and a common one throughout Scripture.
“Trouble pursues the sinner,” says Proverbs 13:21, “but the righteous are rewarded with good
“The righteous eat to their hearts’ content,” says verse 25, “but the stomach of the wicked goes
“A little while, and the wicked will be no more,” declares the psalmist. “But the meek will inherit the
land and enjoy peace and prosperity” (Psalm 37:10-11).
For the people of Israel, this principle of reward and punishment was established in the beginning, when God gave their ancestors the Ten Commandments and told them to “walk in obedience to all that the LORD your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess” (Deuteronomy 5:33). Sure enough, when Joshua followed God’s instructions, Israel won its battles; when even a single soldier strayed, its armies faltered. The people watched as their leaders suffered the consequences of disobedience. Saul lost his crown, David four of his sons, Solomon his kingdom. The prophets believed even the Babylonian exile to be divine punishment for Israel’s transgressions, an indictment on the nation’s greed, idolatry, and neglect of the poor. The connection between suffering and sin remained pervasive enough in first-century Jewish thought that when Jesus’ disciples encountered a man blind from birth, they asked their Rabbi, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
So, it’s understandable how a superficial reading of Scripture might lead someone to conclude that it
teaches a sort of karmic reciprocity between God and people, wherein those who behave honorably and keep the commandments are blessed, while those who lie, cheat, and steal get their comeuppance.
But that only captures half the conversation. - Enter Job.
Job did everything right. The eighteenth book of the Bible describes its eponymous [self-titled] hero
as “blameless and upright,” a man who “feared God and shunned evil” (1:1). Job was faithful to his wife,
kind to the poor, and generous with his workers. A wealthy landowner boasting many thousands of sheep, camels, and oxen, he had ten beloved children and regularly burnt offerings to God on their behalf. In fact, Job maintained such a virtuous lifestyle it drew the attention of God, who, in one of the Bible’s most imaginative and confounding scenes, makes a wager with Satan that Job would remain faithful even if he lost everything. As a result of this wager, Job’s livestock and servants are destroyed by enemies, his fields are consumed by fire, and his children are killed when a freak windstorm collapses their tent- all in one day. But even after Job is himself stricken with terrible sores that leave him scratching at his body with a shard of broken pottery, he refuses to curse God. Instead, he shaves his head, tears his clothes, and sings: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away; may the name of the LORD be praised. [In all this, Job didn’t sin or blame God.”] (1:21, 22)
As he grieves in a heap of ashes outside the city, Job is visited by three of his friends – Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. For seven days and seven nights they sit with him in silence in an act of solidarity Jewish readers will recognize as “sitting shiva.” But when Job cries out in agony to curse the day he was born, Eliphaz can’t help but respond, delivering a monologue about how Job must have sinned to incite this tragedy.
What follows is a series of speeches and responses in which the cause of Job’s suffering and the nature of wisdom are hotly debated. This discussion consumes the bulk of the book’s forty-two chapters and includes some of Scripture’s most lyrical refrains. Indeed, lines from the speeches of Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar could easily be mistaken for lines from the book of Psalms or Proverbs.
Finally, after thirty-seven chapters of speeches, God talks back, and in a voice thundering from a whirlwind, demands, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand. . .. Have you ever given orders to the morning, or shown the dawn its place?” (38:4, 12).
[ Reading concerning a poetic tour of the cosmos from “Inspired.”]
It’s not exactly a straightforward answer to the issue of theodicy (why God allows suffering and evil to persist in the world), but it’s a striking one that expands the question of causality to include the furthest reaches of the universe and the minuscule barbs of an ostrich feather.
After this poetic tour of the cosmos, God rebukes Job’s friends for not speaking the truth as Job has, and instructs them to make offerings as penance. In a rather satisfying final burn, God informs the three philosophers that Job, the man they had condemned as a sinner, will have to intercede in prayer on their behalf, “and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly” (42:8).
Job’s health is restored, his wealth doubled. He has ten more children and dies at the age of 140, “full of years” (42:17). God never tells Job about that wager with the Devil.
No one doubts the literary achievement of the book of Job, its imagery and themes influencing everything from Handel’s “Messiah” to Joseph Stein’s “Fiddler on the Roof” to Dostoyevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov.” But identifying the genre of the original story can be tricky. Some call it a folktale, others a work of theological speculation. Tennyson called it “the greatest poem of ancient or modern times.” But most agree the book of Job falls squarely in the tradition of wisdom literature.
For this week with the “ear of your heart”: Read Job chapter 1 and practice Lectio Divina.
“Thought for Extending the Practice”: Look honestly at the way you deal with suffering. Do you get angry with God? Are you quick to blame someone else?
- Source for “Thought for Extending the Practice”: “The CEB Lectio Divina Prayer Bible”
An invitation to our virtual participants: Discussion and comments are very much encouraged and
welcomed. Online discussions can be held in the comments section in the upcoming post on Facebook for this week’s Deacon’s Reflection which is part of adult formation at St. Francis Episcopal Church.
The blessings of heaven, the blessings of earth, the blessings of sea and of sky.
On those we love this day and on every human family the gifts of heaven, the gifts of earth,
the gifts of sea and of sky.
May the light of God illumine the heart of my soul. May the flame of Christ kindle me to love.
May the fire of the Spirit free me to live this day, tonight, and forever. Amen.
- J. Philip Newell, Celtic Treasure – Daily Scriptures and Prayer, p. 85.
“Inspired”, Deacon Joe Dzugan, St. Francis Episcopal Church, 2023.