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Posted by on Feb 4, 2024

Hard Times Come – Where’s the Lord?

Hard Times Come – Where’s the Lord?

It’s raining again as I write these words. Winter in our area can be very wet or very dry. This year, it’s been relatively dry until recently, but the ground is saturated and water is freely flowing off the coastal mountains and to the ocean. It’s not unusual to get 2 inches or more in 24 hours when the big storms blow in from the ocean. This one is predicted to last 2 or more days, so there will be plenty of runoff!

A song is going through my head as I listen to the rain. “Raindrops keep falling on my head, but that doesn’t mean my eyes will soon be turning red…” Blessedly, the rain is not leaking through our roof since we got it repaired a few years ago. But the sense of rain as symbol for hard times which will end is also included in that song and resonates with the story of Job.

Job was a good man. He was married. He had children. His business affairs were successful. He was honest. He fulfilled his religious duties willingly. All should have gone well for him. He was doing everything right. The story tells us that the Lord was very pleased with Job.  But one day, while the Lord was speaking with his angels, Satan came among them too. When the Lord pointed out Job and what a wonderful person he was, Satan objected that it was only because all was going well for Job. It would be a different story if Job lost everything.

The Lord didn’t think it would be, so he gave Satan permission to do whatever he pleased with Job, except to kill him. Satan set to work quickly. The large herds of sheep, donkeys, camels, and other work animals he owned were all killed or stolen. A house fell on top of his children and killed them all. Job was devastated, but he spoke the famous words, “Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb and naked shall I go back again. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (Jb 1:21)

This amazed Satan and pleased the Lord. But Satan persisted, noting that Job had not suffered anything physically himself. The Lord gave Satan permission to cause physical pain but not to kill Job. So Job was afflicted with itchy sores all over his body that caused tremendous pain and suffering. His wife and friends all assumed it was because he had committed some terrible sin that he was being punished this way. Sure, some rain falls in every life, but not so much! Only great sinners would be punished so dramatically according to this way of thinking.

Most of the book details the accusations of Job’s friends and his responses defending himself. Job also calls on God to justify having taken everything away and allowed such suffering to befall him. He begs for relief or death. Job reminds God of his own faithfulness and asks God to respond in kind – with faithfulness. (Jb 7:1-4, 6-7)

Finally, God responds. He reminds Job in a series of undeniable images of his power and Job’s lack of power over much of what happens in life and in the world. Job accepts the fact that God is in charge and has the right to do what God pleases. And the Lord relents and restores Job’s good fortune, granting him a double all he had lost and a life twice as long as normal.

In the story, God then turns to the so-called friends and defends Job as a falsely accused innocent man. The false accusers must apologize to Job, who forgives them.

The book of Job is not to be taken literally. It’s a poem intended to teach something important about the relationship between people and God. People go through hard times. God is aware of the suffering. God will reward and somehow restore those who remain faithful.

As Jesus began his ministry of teaching and healing in Galilee, he did not remain in just one place, working with a few friends and their families. He healed Simon Peter’s mother-in-law with the touch of his hand. She got up and began to serve her guests. After an evening of healing many people, Jesus went to bed. But in the morning, Jesus took time to get away and pray. While he was away praying that next day, lots of people had gathered, hoping for healing. But Jesus, strengthened by his time in prayer, knew it was time to move on to another place and again share the good news of the kingdom which he had been sent to proclaim. (Mk 1:29-39)

Some folks were healed. Others had to wait. Many who suffered would never receive the miracle of a return to health. But with the coming of Jesus, healing became a possibility, a hope, a promise. It could take many forms, not just physical restoration. Healing was something deeper than the physical. As in the case of Job, healing includes acceptance of God’s place and our place in the grand scheme of things. God can and will bring healing in many forms to those who trust and follow.

Paul traveled widely, sharing the news of the coming of the kingdom. He gave his testimony freely to all those he met. He didn’t ask them to support him. He didn’t charge for his teaching. He gave it freely because he had received it freely. The encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus changed the course of his life. The call he received led to long journeys, with hardships and eventual death. But he rejoiced that he had been called to share the great news of God’s love and reconciliation with all of humanity. His life of prayer and service gave him strength and hope. (1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23)

It’s raining again, and very windy. Some folks are out in the rain yet. They have no homes in which to rest warmly. Many of us are safely sheltered. We can look at our sisters and brothers and judge their worthiness of respect by whether they are sheltered or not. We can look at those who have traveled far from their homes seeking safety from violence and wonder whether they are worth our attention, welcome, and support. Or we can stretch out our hands to offer help and welcome. To help find healthcare and decent housing and food and education for the children. So much depends on how we look at the rain that falls figuratively on the lives we all live.

Let us pray that our eyes be opened to see the Lord’s hand in the hard times we all experience and reach out to each other in practical care and support, sustained by a life of prayer.

Readings for the Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Cycle B


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