Weekly Seeds: With Integrity

Sunday, October 3, 2021
After Pentecost Year B

Focus Theme:
With Integrity

Focus Prayer:
Mighty and powerful God, through Jesus Christ, you come to save people in all times and places, offering them new life in your presence. Give us open hearts to receive your Chosen One, that through him we may dwell with you as faithful and committed disciples. Amen

Focus Reading:
Job 1:1, 2:1–10
There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.
2 One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. 2 The LORD said to Satan, “Where have you come from?” Satan answered the LORD, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” 3 The LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.” 4 Then Satan answered the LORD, “Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. 5 But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” 6 The LORD said to Satan, “Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.”
7 So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. 8 Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.
9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

All readings for this Sunday:
Job 1:1, 2:1–10 and Psalm 26
Genesis 2:18–24 and Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1–4, 2:5–12
Mark 10:2–16

Focus Questions:

  1. How do you deal with adversity?
  2. Are there tools that are useful in difficult circumstances that you employ?
  3. What is integrity? Why is it important?
  4. How does adversity challenge integrity?
  5. What does it mean to be blameless? Why do we tend to attribute blame in adverse conditions?

By Cheryl Lindsay

How do faithful people confront adversity? Like me, you may have heard that the Book of Job is an allegory that explains why bad things happen to good people. I’ve long accepted that explanation as more favorable than the writings depicting human suffering at the whim of a spiritual experiment. But, at a particularly challenging period in my life, I turned to Job to gain insight from his vaunted patience. I wasn’t looking so much for why (my favorite word). I didn’t need a theoretical explanation of why I was experiencing the turmoil at that moment. I needed help getting through the storm. I searched, not for an explanation of why but for how to keep going.

After reading through the entire book of Job from the vantage point of searching for answers and meaning, I became convinced that most people who refer to the patience of Job haven’t read the entire book. In it, Job goes through all the stages of grief. He argues with God and his friends. He laments and bemoans his faith. He displays impatience, frustration, confusion, and at times despondency. Yes, at times, his walk reflects a level of patience that works noting, most remarkably in the passage we focus on this week. I would submit, however, that this is the beginning of the story and cannot be used to summarize his journey. In addition, there’s much more at work in the interaction recorded here.

I imagine it wasn’t easy being Job’s wife.

We have to imagine because we know so little about her. We only hear her voice in this conversation with Job. She has been treated by so many nameless and faceless women in the Bible. Her entire life has become one recorded moment, and she has been vilified throughout historical interpretations of this text.

But as I was reading this text searching every word, I found out what I had never heard mentioned about Job’s wife. Everything that happened to him…happened to her.

His children were her children. His home was her home. His servants were her servants. Do we imagine that Job’s wife had a reservoir of resources apart from her husband when she doesn’t even have a name that distinguishes her from him? Every loss, every defeat, every disappointment, every tragedy was shared. Yet, she has been denounced for not supporting her husband in his time of grief while she was experiencing grief all her own.

Job’s wife reminds us that our pain needs voice. She’s lost everything but Job. Now, he’s presenting evidence of an illness. Is it possible that she had a reasonable expectation that Job might be next. She might have assumed that God was testing–or punishing–her and wanted to move as quickly as possible to the inevitable–and final–heartbreak to come. Job, at this point in the story, isn’t ready to deal with her pain. In addition, his response to her, which might have been rebuke or gentle chiding, indicates that he isn’t ready to deal with his own.

Job does express his pain, but not here, not now, and not with his wife. When he does open up, he does so with his friends. Maybe that’s because he did rebuke her and is embarrassed to admit that her feelings were legitimate. Maybe, she reaches the conclusion that he asserted, and Job fears upsetting her faith when his becomes shaky. We don’t know. But, we do know that she was never named as a loss in Job’s life. Therefore, when he is restored and made whole, so is Job’s wife.

Job’s story is one of adversity and calamity, and he and his wife are companions. They serve as co-suffers even if the narrative only closely tracks his portion of the story. His friends, who do not experience his same losses, accuse Job of wrongdoing, but she does not. She asks the question, “Do you still persist in your integrity?” Job’s wife, knowingly or unwittingly, reveals the essential question and test of the narrative.

Integrity may be defined as keeping your word or following through on your promises. It denotes steadfast adherence to your beliefs, values, and principles. Integrity also means holding true to your nature. In the exchange of the heavenly council that opens this passage, Job is commended as the model human being who “still persists in his integrity.” That does not mean that Job was perfect, or that the Holy One expected him to be.

From the beginning, Job’s wholeness (Heb. tam, which also has the connotation of “integrity”) and uprightness (yashar) are particularly important. These personal qualities also extend to his wealth and his family; three daughters and seven sons, both numbers representative of wholeness or completeness in ancient Near Eastern (ANE) contexts, further emphasize Job’s tam; seven thousand sheep and three thousand camels also emphasize not only his wealth but also his tam. Ten is another important number representing perfection, which is included here by association (ten children, one thousand oxen). These numbers are also a way to emphasize the staggering extent of Job’s wealth, his completeness in a material sense. Tam means whole or complete rather than without sin, but one must maintain right relationships with God and others in order to maintain this wholeness; Job’s actions on behalf of his children illustrate this concern. Yashar in Hebrew, translated “upright,” also has the sense of straightness, directness; with Job, what you see is what you get. The dialogues bear this out. These qualities are the core of Job’s integrity, and the words themselves recur throughout the text to emphasize their centrality to the conflict between Job and his interlocutors. Job’s blamelessness is integrity, not sinlessness. Job also feared God, which is identified as the source of wisdom (Job 28). Job trusts and relies on God, which is one more reason why his suffering is so devastating to him. (Alissa Jones Nelson)

Perhaps if we understood that Job was not perfect, but a person of integrity, it would help us consider our responses to adversity with more grace. We might also understand his words to his wife were uttered out of his deeply held convictions but could have been expressed with more compassion and understanding that she has her own story of grief and lament.

I wondered, as I read the whole story of Job, as he ponders and even laments his condition, if he remembered the words of his wife, who dared to say what she needed to say. And, if that remembering gave him permission to express discomforting feelings of his own.

I read a paper examining the significance of Job’s wife where the author, who I will not amplify here, attempted to debunk a more expansive reading of the story of Job’s wife because this story is about Job and she should have been more compassionate toward him.

It is not possible for Job’s wife to be more compassionate when we understand that the word compassion means, “to suffer with.” That author also suggested that no one expected her to be perfect even as he itemized all the things that he thought she should have done to comfort her husband even as the author ignores her very real need for comfort herself. The truth is that grief does not come in a vacuum. I vividly remember having a conversation about grief with a parent who lost a child. She remarked how much her spouse, who was a loving step-parent to that child, supported her grief while dealing with her own. Mourning a loss, or dealing with any sort of adversity, is a journey that we are meant to take with one another even if we experience it with individual uniqueness. Job had a rough time, but we can’t pretend that it was easy to be Job’s wife.

It’s not easy to persist in your integrity when the world around you stops making sense. Holding onto your values and principles that rewards bad behavior and mocks the good may seem pointless or even foolish. Trusting in God when God seems to allow the calamity to strike without impediment may seem naive and attract ridicule from those around you…or even cause you to question yourself. Job’s wife dares to ask the question, and begins the process of questioning that helps propel them both to restoration. There is integrity in expressing the fullness of your emotions, in not pretending that everything is okay when it’s not, and in releasing your pain. Thus, while she only has a few lines in the tale, her role is pivotal:

Why is Mrs. Job’s pericope included in the book of Job? It is to move Job from compliance to resistance. It is to rebirth Job’s identity. She does not offer many words, but their effect is great. Mrs. Job’s voice moves Job’s voice. Her words make the rest of the story possible. Additionally, she serves as a counterbalance to Queen Jezebel because, through an abuse of the legal process, Jezebel had gained an illegal victory for the king in a false suit involving blasphemy. Job’s wife, on the other hand, seeks to defeat one. Through this act, she heals the wound left by this female treachery. Job’s wife is, indeed, wise and powerful. She is not the Satan’s handmaiden, she is not a foolish woman, she is not offering Job theological euthanasia, and she is not one to be ignored. Rather, she is attempting to maintain her husband’s integrity, nay his very humanity and his normative-legal world, in the face of a God who appears to be torturously violent and unjust, and she succeeds. She moves both Job and God. In the process, she becomes a quiet hero, both in the story and beyond. Job’s wife serves as a model of resistance for all those whose suffering is both terrible and unacknowledged. She teaches us all the lesson that compassion, generosity, generativity, and edification are still possible even under the worst of conditions. Job’s wife, with just two painfully uttered sentences, joins the ranks of the wise. (E. Rachel Magdalene)

We may read her words as echoing those expressed by Satan or challenging those uttered by God. We may hear her lashing out selfishly without regard for her spouse’s concerns. Or, we can consider her another character presenting Job with a path to deal with the adversity he faces. Or, I suggest, we can uplift Job’s wife as a model of her own, who demonstrates the freedom to lament, to persevere, and to be restored…with integrity.

For further reflection:
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to
succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”
― Abraham Lincoln
“I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” ― Frederick Douglass
“They’re certainly entitled to think that, and they’re entitled to full respect for their opinions… but before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself. The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” ― Harper Lee

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (lindsayc@ucc.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.