Today we celebrate the Memorial of St. Jerome, best known for his work on the translations of Hebrew and Greek texts of Sacred Scripture into the Latin language version known as the Vulgate. He was also known as a man given to being persnickety, temperamental, easily annoyed and with a quick temper. And he is a saint… there is hope for us all, perhaps.
Certainly, his work on translation is graced and worthy of praise and is a model of persistence, achieved over 30 years of effort. But so too is his persistence in the remorse of his actions with his friends and enemies. I won’t go over his history, his encounters, or his travelogue as he was bounced from place to place. He was not an innocent. Many of his problems were self-inflicted, but he ever turned toward God for grace, mercy and forgiveness. He was human but persistently sought God and the Good in this work for translation and in living out his problematic life.
In our first reading from the Book of Job, we come face-to-face with the problem of the suffering of the innocent. In these days of the pandemic timeout, many of us innocently suffer – after seven months I don’t need to go over the list – we are all familiar. We are all, to one degree or another, suffering – and innocently at that. But…are we persistently turning toward God?
Let’s take a quick look at this preeminent story on innocent suffering and persistence – the Book of Job, our first reading for today.
The prologue (chaps. 1–2) provides the setting for Job’s testing. When challenged by the satan’s questioning of Job’s sincerity, the Lord gives leave for a series of catastrophes to afflict Job. Three friends come to console him but to also counsel him to admit his guilt. And so, begins 28 chapters of dialogue between the companions and Job. We hear but a snippet of the dialogues in today’s first reading.
Unlike Jerome, Job’s problems are not self-inflicted. They are part of a “bet” between God and “the satan.” (which is Hebrew means tempter). God describes Job as follows: “There is no one on earth like him, blameless and upright, fearing God and avoiding evil.” (Job 1:8) Basically, satan responds, “sure…now when he is experiencing your protection and blessings…take that away and he will fold like a cheap tent.” (ok…I took some liberties, but the intent and meaning are the same).
Job loses everything.
But, will he turn to God to seek redress, mercy, wholeness, Hope,…the return of his life?
Will he turn away from God or persistently turn toward God?
It is the same question we all face in the trials and tribulations of our own lives.
Job talks it out. And it is not always pretty. But in his growing anger and frustration, he is turned toward God, seeking the Good. Job works himself into a lather by the end of Chapter 37. He is basically calling God to show up and explain himself – demanding that God explain “Divine Justice.”
Then the LORD answered Job out of the storm and said: Who is this who darkens counsel with words of ignorance? Gird up your loins* now, like a man; I will question you, and you tell me the answers! Where were you when I founded the earth? (Job 38:1-4)
Job has good, well founded questions of fairness, justice, and “where is God in all this.” He has been building up to this grand throw-down… and the only response from God is “Where were you when I founded the earth?” God’s answer continues for a little more than 4 chapters, not by explaining divine justice, but by cataloguing the wonders of creation.
It is Job’s persistence through thick and thin, up and down, understanding or no, that allows him to hear the response from God. And as unsatisfying is God’s answer in our western way of thinking, Job is apparently content with this, and, in an epilogue (42:7–17), the Lord restores Job’s fortune.
Our fortunes have not been restored from our pandemic timeout, but may we be persistent, ever turning toward God so that we hear His response and know the mysterious ways we are already being restored in new and wonderful ways.