Thursday of week 26 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Job 19:21-27

Job asks his “comforters” for some genuine compassion “for the hand of God has struck me”. His body is covered with sores and his family destroyed. He is not sure yet why this has happened but the words of his friends do not seem to be of much help. “Why do you hound me down, will you never have enough of my flesh?” he asks them. It is bad enough having God do these things to him without their aggravating the situation.

And then, in stark contrast to what goes before and follows after (not in our readings), in the very depths of his misery, Job bursts out in a marvellous statement of faith and hope. It is “probably the best-known and most-loved passage in the book of Job, reaching a high point in Job’s understanding of his own situation and of his relationship to God”” (NIV Bible).

So strongly does he feel about what he is going to say that he would like it to be inscribed in stone so that it would survive his death and endure until the day when his vindication will take place.

“I know that my Avenger lives.” ‘Avenger’ or ‘Vindicator’ translates the Hebrew word goel, a technical term in law. It is frequently used of God as the saviour of his people and the avenger of the oppressed and early rabbis used it of the Messiah. In the Latin translation of St Jerome (the Vulgate) the word is translated ‘Redeemer’. (The word seems analogous to the title given in the New Testament to the Spirit, Paraclete [parakletes, paraklhths], which means someone who comes to protect you and stand by your side, such as a defence lawyer in court).

Job now in deep faith awaits his God to come and vindicate him before his friends, who have condemned him as a sinner and wrongdoer. The Jerusalem Bible comments:

Job, slandered and condemned by his friends, awaits a Defender who this time is God himself. Job still believes his happiness to be lost for ever and his death to be at hand: when God undertakes to avenge his cause, it will be after his death. Nonetheless Job hopes to witness this and to ‘see’ his vindication. In 14:10-14 he had envisaged the possibility of a temporary shelter in Sheol, and here it would seem that he is counting on a brief return to earthly life to see his vindications accomplished; in this he is prompted by his faith in a God who can bring men back from Sheol. Job’s faith thus momentarily defies mortal horizons in his desperate need for justice; it prepares us for the explicit revelation of bodily resurrection, cf. 2 Macc 7:9+.

Job expresses his confidence that ultimately God will vindicate his faithful servants in the face of all false accusations.

Job’s words of faith and hope are probably best known to us in the famous aria from Handel’s oratorio the Messiah, “I know that my Redeemer liveth”, although ‘Redeemer’ or ‘Vindicator’ here, with the hindsight of the New Testament, has a meaning going far beyond what Job is saying.

God is also called here “the Last”, he is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end of all things. He will “take his stand” as judge. And that will be the moment of Job’s justification. Job expects to die from the physical afflictions of his body but “after my awaking” God will be close to him and he shall even “look on God”, perhaps returning to earth for a short period.

In spite of his sufferings, he knows in his heart they are not the result of his sin and that his basic innocence and goodness will be finally recognised by his being brought face to face with the one who will vindicate him.

Job’s great hope should be the basis of our faith, too. We too know that our Avenger, our Vindicator, our Redeemer in the person of Jesus Christ lives and that he has gone ahead of us so that we can share with him the life that no one can take from us.

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