Friday of Week 26 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Job 38:1, 12-21; 40:3-5

The three “comforters” are followed in their dialogue with Job by Elihu (chaps 32-37), who adds his own advice.

At this point Yahweh intervenes with two speeches in which he gives Job the answers to his questions. They cover more than four chapters altogether (38-42). In our reading we are given short excerpts from the first speech. And, in each case, Job will give a short response of acknowledgement.

In a way, the answer to the why of his suffering is that there is no answer in the sense that no human person is in a position to call in question the infinite wisdom and power of God. Job will now accept his situation. He is a person of tiny significance in a vast universe which is totally beyond his comprehension. How can he question the God who is behind it all?

Yahweh speaks to Job “from the heart of the tempest”. This is a traditional way of describing an appearance of God and is evocative of his overwhelming power. Earlier Elihu had imagined the appearance of the divine presence as a display of “golden splendour” and “awesome majesty”. He had also anticipated the storm or whirlwind from which Job would hear the voice of God. Job had said, “Let the Almighty answer me.” He now receives the Lord’s answer.

Yahweh begins by asking a series of questions full of poetic images. They compare the almighty power of the creator God with the impotence of Job, the creature.

Yahweh begins by asking Job if he had ever given orders to the morning or sent the dawn to its place. ‘Morning’ and ‘Dawn’ are seen as distinct entities. Obviously, the answer is No. Only the Master of the Universe could do such a thing. The light also has the effect of driving the wicked into hiding; they cannot tolerate the light and love darkness. (Jesus will say something in the same vein.) Again, this is clearly far beyond the capabilities of Job.

“When [the dawn] changes the earth to sealing clay and dyes it as a man dyes clothes.” Here is a wonderful picture of the dawn breaking over the earth and changing the colours of everything as the sun rises. The “sealing clay” is a deep red.

Has Job ever gone to the “sources of the sea”? It was believed that there were springs under the earth which supplied the seas with water, or has he been to the Abyss, the depths beyond the confines of the earth? Has he been to the “gates of death” or seen the janitors of “Shadowland” or Sheol, the place of the dead.

Does Job have even the faintest idea of the extent of the earth? The vast majority of people in those days, even the rich, had not travelled far from their home and had no way of knowing what the rest of even the inhabited world was like. We need to remember it was not until the end of the 15th century of our era when the great sea explorations began that people had any idea of the size and shape of our planet and even longer before we began to penetrate the mysteries of the skies above our heads.

Job had never been to the homes of Light and Darkness, ideas thought of as distinct from the sun and moon (as they are in the creation story of Genesis where Light is created before the Sun).

All of these are places to which only God has access. If Job did know these things, he might have some power to control them but, in fact, he is totally powerless. If he did know all these things, he would now be very ancient indeed! But so limited is Job’s knowledge that he is in absolutely no situation to question anything that God does.

In the last part of the reading, which is Job’s response to God, he is for all practical purposes reduced to stammering and speechlessness. “I had better lay my finger on my lips.” He will no longer complain because his grasp of the situation is so weak. How can he call to account a Yahweh who is so vast in his power, while Job is so little? He can have no idea of the full picture of things.

We know many things about our world and environment which were completely unknown to Job. But, in spite of all that we have discovered in the intervening centuries, life is still largely a mystery and we are equally unable to explain why many things happen to us or what goes on in the mysterious wisdom of God.

The only response that gives peace is to hold on to the conviction that he is a God of truth, of love, of compassion and of justice. And, in spite of the disorder and chaos and violence, our world is shot through with Truth, Love and Beauty. As the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins said: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” and “There lives the deepest freshness deep down things”. Lord, that we may see!

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