SEPTEMBER 30, 2008: JOB 3:1–23.

 

Today we celebrate one of the Fathers of monastic life in the Latin-speaking world. Saint Jerome, was the most devoted, capable, and orthodox of Biblical scholars in the early Church. But he was more: he explained in a highly literate and elegant Latin language a doctrine of spirituality that contributed widely to asserting, often against serious opposition. He also founded and guided monasteries in the Holy Land that witnessed to the viability and holiness of a dedicated life of chastity and obedience lived in community in a time of turmoil in the Roman world. Though he had some personal defects of character, being over sensitive to legitimate criticism, too hasty in anger, times unjustly aggressive, and blinded by resentments, yet he persevered in his monastic life, faithful to his vocation as he understood it to the end. That, in spite of his character defects he became a saint by persevering fidelity to the light as he understood it, is an encouragement for us who share similar weaknesses. God’s mercy and grace are more efficacious than our human frailties and defects.  Like Job, Jerome experienced great struggles and severe temptations, as he honestly admits; however, he did not yield to discouragement. And so today’s first reading is quite appropriate to this feast of a learned, flawed and yet faithful monk.

 

WHY IS LIGHT GIVEN TO THE SUFERING, AND LIFE TO THE BITTER OF SPIRIT? The story of Job is a literary masterpiece that poses a profound question to life with a powerful voice: what meaning is there for a life filled with suffering? The telling of Job’s story addresses every individual person and every generation. The vivid intensity with which it treats the subject of human suffering made the figure of Job a symbol of human wretchedness. The patience of Job came to be considered the ultimate in humble endurance under nearly unbearable affliction. One of the reasons for the continuing influence of this work, written around 500 years before Christ, is that it opens up a fresh way of viewing fundamental features of human life. The list of the forms assumed by suffering is long and Job encounters a good number of them: how are we to interpret pain, sickness, misunderstanding by friends, lack of sympathy even from those closest to us, false accusations, sudden loss of possessions, the death of loved ones, the ruin of one’s reputation. Who can hope to avoid one or more of these sources of suffering in a long life? As we learn more about children and adolescents, the sharper grows awareness that the various kinds of suffering and sorrows do not spare the young. In our own country, recent studies reveal an alarming increase of unhappy and psychologically unhealthy experiences of the young. Among other signs of this decay is the alarming number of suicides in the youth as well as the increase of social and moral offences, not only the abuse of alcohol and drugs, but even of murder by adolescents, as our local newspaper recently informs us. Merely to recount the various types and instances of suffering is to risk being labeled “a regular Job.”

 

The problem is not new by any means. In the nineteenth century Dostoyevski wrote a novel that leaves the reader at the end with the same question that Job raised. The Russian writer managed to state it in a contemporary idiom by the protagonist of his book: “Why are people so wretched?” In the middle of the twentieth century the American poet Archibald Macleisch reworked the story of Job for an American audience in the form of a drama. He named his play pointedly “J. B.” I happened to be studying in Washington when it previewed there, and was struck by the fact that, although the secular perspective of the author led to skeptical conclusion, the power of the theme was such that a sense of reverential awe permeated the audience. Suffering has a sobering effect on every thoughtful person; it leads one to question one’s values, and, as was the case with Job, causes the individual to re-evaluate the very basis of one’s beliefs and values. C.S. Lewis understood the continuing need to address the issues raised by Job in today’s reading, and treated it in a book he entitled “The Problem of Pain.”

 

The Lord Jesus cast the whole matter of the meaning of suffering in a more vivid setting. He illustrated in his own person as well as in his teaching the need to come to terms with human suffering. He does so in the Gospel we have just heard.. Knowing that he was soon to face death he deliberately went to meet it, sustained by his firm trust that the suffering involved was meaningful for it was undertaken in fulfillment of the Father’s plan. St. Luke states the case in these words: “As the time approached when Jesus was to be taken from this world, he firmly resolved to proceed toward Jerusalem.” Our Lord was to reveal what remained largely hidden to Job. While Job learned from suffering that God in his dealings with humans is not rightly understood if he is considered to be merely just. God is loving and merciful; it is our human limitation that reduces suffering to retribution; it is also an occasion for encounter with the transcendent mystery of God himself in all his purity and power. Only faith in the loving care of the God who created us in his image and likeness can profit from suffering and learn that through its pain we attain to the kind of humble recognition of his wisdom and beauty. When Jesus spoke on another occasion of the need he was placed under to suffer and die, he added that on the third day he was to rise again. The ultimate meaning of suffering, he revealed, for those who accept his word, is the joy of eternal life in the loving presence of God who is our merciful Father. U   

   

                                    

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger