28 September 2010 St. Lorenzo Ruiz and companion martyrs
Job 31, 1-23; Psalm 88; Luke 9, 51-56
Have you ever wished you could kill someone who has done you wrong? Or hope that misfortune befall someone who has hurt you? How many times did you imagine how you want punished the corrupt, the criminal or the crooked? These thoughts come naturally to many of us, although we don’t follow-through these plans. Even the good people are not exempt from these thoughts.
Take for example, Job. He was a virtuous and God-fearing man. But he was despoiled of everything. He lost his property and his family. He bitterly lamented his lot. In times of distress and affliction, Israel poured out its lament before the Lord.
Reading Scripture today, lamentations are spontaneous responses to the presence of the realm of death, in whatever manifestation of brokenness in our lives. It is a loud, “Ouch!” or an intense “Aray!” This is something that is found all over Scripture, and we have to return to this type of prayer. It is fine to pour out all your frustrations to the Lord. It is ok to rant and wail in pain to the Lord! In the first reading today, Job cries intensely and pleads for the answer to this existential question: Why do the good suffer?
Job has been faithful to God but he laments that it seems that great fortunes are given to the wicked. Here are his questions: “Why is light given to the toilers, and life to the bitter in spirit? They wait for death, and it comes not; they search for it rather than for hidden treasures.” In other words, Job asks, “Why is it that the corrupt, the criminal and the crooked become lucky and fortunate?” His question, reverberates to all of us. It is humanity’s question: the suffering of the innocent. In the memorial of St. Lorenzo Ruiz and companion martyrs, we can be very sure that they too lamented what Job cried centuries ago!
Take another example, the apostles in today’s Gospel. They plan to journey to Jerusalem. The shortest route is by way of Samaria. But the Samaritans are considered unclean by the Jews. So those who would go to Jerusalem would avoid entering a Samaritan town. Naturally, when the apostles entered a Samaritan town, they were rejected. The apostles took offense, and they would like Jesus to send “fire from heaven” to punish them.
Part of our humanity is our capacity to sense injustice and fight against it. Our feelings of anger, though not a sin yet, are like traffic lights: they tell us that something is not right. That is why we become angry, manifested in different levels or intensity. There are those that slight, irritate, pissed off, or bring us to a fit of rage. We experience something that is unfair and are willing to stand up and say so; we put ourselves on line rather than submit. The book of Job expresses this capacity and such a stand.
During the difficult moments of our lives, we struggle to reconcile the tragedy we experienced and the justice of God. In facing our own brokenness, we question God’s love for us. If He loves me, why did He allow these things to happen? This is called, theodicy. And if we read through the life of Job, we realize that we can identify with him, and thus the voice of Job represents our voices who continue to struggle with this question or advocate for justice.
But what is the response of Jesus? He rebukes the disciples. He turns and takes an alternative route. He does not punish the Samaritans. His answer is not to put Himself at the same level as them.
So what happens now? We know the following:
At the end of the book of Job, Job remains faithful to the Lord. Job’s fortunes are restored and they all live happily ever after.
Jesus becomes a victim of injustices. He becomes one with the innocent who suffers.
I am not proposing an answer to this reflection. In fact, many of my questions in my personal and ministerial life remain unanswered. The book of Job has a general outline. One of them is what we call, Yahweh speeches (38:1 – 42:6). In this segment, God answers Job and overwhelms Him into silence. That is what happens also to us. We do not find answers, but we still remain in awe of God.
In the end, we submit and accept the reality, as Job said (1:21):
“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!”