Homily for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 2021
Job spoke, saying:
Is not man’s life on earth a drudgery?
Are not his days those of hirelings?
He is a slave who longs for the shade,
a hireling who waits for his wages.
So I have been assigned months of misery,
and troubled nights have been allotted to me.
If in bed I say, “When shall I arise?”
then the night drags on;
I am filled with restlessness until the dawn.
My days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again.
-Job 7:1-4, 6-7
Well, with this as with a number of readings in our lectionary, it seems a bit odd to respond with “Thanks be to God!” But there you are. What are we to make of our acclamation? I am not absolutely sure what the liturgical compliers had in mind, if anything, but I will offer my own explanation.
First of all, the tremendous sufferings of Job are prefigurations of the sufferings of Our Savior Jesus Christ. Although he was innocent, Job endured the malice of Satan and the incomprehension of men, and God permitted all of this and brought him out of his trials to the hope of the resurrection the beatific vision: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another” (Job 19:25-27). So, yes, he “will see happiness again,” and a happiness beyond all earthly imagining. To this future event in the story, known to us Christians who are hearing the lesson being read, we can well respond, “Thanks be to God.”
But we can also, given what we know about our spiritual life in Christ, say “thanks be to God” to Job’s current state as presented in the reading. The merit of his grueling patience is preparing for his ultimate triumph, by God’s power, over all the wiles of Satan. As the newest American blessed, the Capuchin Solanus Casey, loved to say, “Thank God ahead of time.” There is tremendous merit in this; such gratitude before the fact is a work of great love for God. And the book of Job tells us of his love for God since in spite of all his trials Job never sinned in complaining, and he expressed his submission to the divine will even as he truthfully admitted his great suffering and dismay. He did not pretend that he was not suffering, or make light of it: for that would be contrary to the truth. He kept his balance, even in stark misery.
He was given the power to do this by the grace of the coming Redeemer, who, he was convinced, was living and would come to raise him up and give him the vision of his face.
For Christ—not Job—is the absolute model. His suffering infinitely surpassed his servant’s. He was not only tried by Satan with the misfortunes of life, he was handed over to his grasp, in his temptation in the wilderness—imagine the natural horror of being bodily transported by the evil one!—and in his passion most of all.
Saint John Henry Newman makes the point most eloquently in one of his sermons:
Both in soul and in body was this Holy and Blessed Savior, the Son of God, and Lord of life, given over to the malice of the great enemy of God and man. Job was given over to Satan in the Old Testament, but within prescribed limits; first, the Evil One was not allowed to touch his person, and afterwards, though his person, yet not his life. But Satan had power to triumph, or what he thought was triumphing, over the life of Christ, who confesses to his persecutors, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness” [Luke 22:53]. Surely to him alone, in their fullness, apply the Prophet’s words; “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow which is done unto me, wherewith the Lord hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger” [Lam. 1:12].
So fine, you might say at this point, but I feel like Job, and I am certainly not the Savior. Their examples are powerful, but what am I to do?
Listen inwardly to this passage of the same sainted Cardinal Newman about Our Lady’s help in our trials and you will know what to do. We have this advantage over the perfections of Job and Jesus: Job’s wife harangued him, and Jesus had to give his mother away (and could receive no consolation from her in his passion), but we have Mary all for us. Read carefully and be consoled immensely as he describes your Job-like state and her powerful aid:
What shall bring you forward in the narrow way, if you live in the world, but the thought and patronage of Mary? What shall seal your senses, what shall tranquillize your heart, when sights and sounds of danger are around you, but Mary? What shall give you patience and endurance, when you are wearied out with the length of the conflict with evil, with the unceasing necessity of precautions, with the irksomeness of observing them, with the tediousness of their repetition, with the strain upon your mind, with your forlorn and cheerless condition, but a loving communion with her! She will comfort you in your discouragements, solace you in your fatigues, raise you after your falls, reward you for your successes. She will show you her son, your God and your all. When your spirit within you is excited, or relaxed, or depressed, when it loses its balance, when it is restless and wayward, when it is sick of what it has, and hankers after what it has not, when your eye is solicited with evil and your mortal frame trembles under the shadow of the tempter, what will bring you to yourselves, to peace and to health, but the cool breath of the Immaculate? (Discourse 18: On the Fitness of the Glories of Mary).
Thanks be to God and to his Blessed Mother!