Proper 25B/Ordinary 30B/Pentecost 22
October 28, 2012
Job 42: 1-17
The Book of Job ties up the story very neatly in a “happily-ever-after” ending – so neat, in fact, that some authorities suspect it was tacked on to the end by later editors. Job gets his health and wealth back, and a new family, but only after he has repented of his complaints, saying “therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42: 6). It might be easy to take this admission as a lesson in the submission of the individual to YHWH’s will (however tortuous that may be). Nonetheless, while Job may be chastened, YHWH also chastens Job’s “comforters” in turn (the three guys who spent 22 chapters hammering him with demands to repent): “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has” (vv.7). Apparently, YHWH does not like people who torment the suffering and carp on God’s alleged wrathfulness either.
Most of the commentary on the Book of Job at this point focuses on the debate over whether and how an infinitely loving God can permit suffering – and what our relationship to this God should be. But I would like to focus on an odd footnote to the end of the story: In the list of all the ways that the Lord restored Job’s fortunes, the narrator includes, “[Job] also had seven sons and three daughters. He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers” (vv.13-15).
The fact that Job’s daughters were named – and not the sons – should clue in the reader that something is afoot here. In a patriarchal society, the fact of a woman being important enough to mention by name over her brothers would have definitely caught the attention of the story-listeners at that time. The names of Job’s daughters are also very evocative: Jemimah means “dove,” the symbol for peace; Keziah comes from cassia – a bush used to make holy oil; and Keren-happuch roughly means “a horn of eye-paint” or possibly the “radiant painted eye”. Job’s daughters are named for things that are holy and beautiful – they are obviously regarded very highly.
Finally, in a detail guaranteed to raise eyebrows, the narrative says that Job gave his daughters an inheritance alongside his sons. In ancient Israel, women did not usually inherit property – they were property. Women might be given a dowry to facilitate their being married off, but to be given an inheritance alongside their brothers (while their brothers were still alive) was almost unheard of. The male storylisteners of ancient Israel may have regarded this detail as a joke: “He was so grateful, the man gave his daughters an inheritance! What’s he going to do next – give his cow a dowry??”
In the end, maybe – just maybe – the undeserved sufferings of Job opened his eyes to the full humanity of his daughters, the “least of these”. While his previous girl-children were mere chattel before, he sees his new daughters as holy and beautiful beings, deserving comparable economic status with their brothers. In the Gospel reading this week, we have the healing of Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, by Jesus. Undeserved tragedy should never be thrown in someone’s face as being “good for them”, particularly while he or she is in the teeth of emotional or physical pain. But after time passes, and the wounds heal, our eyes are opened to others’ suffering in a way that may not have been possible before. Out of the ashes of our old lives, new and more inclusive lives characterized by gratitude and generosity can be born.
As hurricane Sandy bears down on the East Coast, leaving undeserved suffering in its wake, let us pray for the healing of community and a concern for the “least of these” in our hour of need.