Weekly Seeds: With Restoration

Sunday, October 24, 2021
After Pentecost Year B

Focus Theme:
With Restoration

Focus Prayer:
Almighty God, creator of heaven and earth, in whom all things are possible, have mercy on us and heal us, that sustained by the power of your word and by the constant intercession of our Lord and Savior, we may draw near to you and follow in your way as faithful disciples. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Job 42:1–6, 10–17
42 Then Job answered the LORD:
2 “I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
4 ‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you declare to me.’
5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
6 therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”
10 And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before. 11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring. 12 The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. 13 He also had seven sons and three daughters. 14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch. 15 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. 16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations. 17 And Job died, old and full of days.

All readings for this Sunday:
Job 42:1–6, 10–17 and Psalm 34:1–8 (19–22)
Jeremiah 31:7–9 and Psalm 126
Hebrews 7:23–28
Mark 10:46–52

Focus Questions:

  1. What is restoration?
  2. How is restoration different than replacement?
  3. Do you have a story of restoration?
  4. Pandemic has amplified adverse conditions with nearly universal impact. What would restoration look like personally and collectively?
  5. What else in our world needs restoration?

By Cheryl Lindsay

The book of Job gives us a happy ending. His family, friendships, and family are restored. He and presumably his spouse are made whole. If we only read the beginning and end, we would think this a neat and tidy story. If Job knew the end of his story along the journey, it might have lent him an unwavering patience that the mythology around him suggests. Job’s story does not promise an easy or guaranteed resolution, but it does remind us that restoration is possible.

Still, even this ending presents a challenging response to adversity. Grief and loss break something in us. As Job speaks the last words we hear, he alternates between resolved praise and lingering questions, with a final declaration of despair. Job note that while he’s heard of God before, which reflects a certain level of distance between them, but now, Job has seen God, which indicates a more fulsome knowledge and understanding. This leads Job to despise himself and to “repent in dust and ashes.” Al Wolters notes, “It is now widely argued that Job was defiant to the end.” For me, this seems more despondent than defiant. Job continues to hurt. He now longer expects vindication. Instead, Job has decided to exalt the God who Job acknowledges is beyond understanding even in the face of more revelation of who God is.

God may still seem arbitrary, but the Sovereign One has engaged Job in conversation. Job has been heard and answered. He has not been comforted, at least not yet. The word translated as “repent” here may also be understood as “being consoled” (Wolters). Job who has turned toward God for answers through most of this narrative has shifted to turning to God for consolation. Job 42:6 does not offer an obvious translation. Thomas F. Dailey provides alternative views:

Depending on how one responds to these questions, the reading of this verse, and by extension the interpretation of the story as a whole, will vary. Job’s concluding position could be described as: 1) juridical, in that he is stating the retraction of his lawsuit against God; 2) confessional, in that he is expressing his conversion back to God; 3) lyrical, in as much as he is experiencing consolation in having encountered his God; or 4) ironical, in as much as he is deftly continuing his rejection of the defense of God.Wolters concludes, however, that verse 6 should be translated as

“Therefore I recant and repent, a child of dust and ashes.” Dailey also defines the ending point of Job’s evolution toward his condition, “For Job the world does not have to be just.” In these words of translation and summation, we hear echoes of Job’s admonition to his spouse, “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (Job 2:10b)

The lectionary, regrettably, skips the next verses where the Holy One speaks to Job’s friends and commends Job while rebuking them. God commands Job to pray for his friends so that God’s anger will abate against them. Then, we find the words of restoration as Job’s story resolves. Without reading those verses, we might believe that God just waves a magic wand and reverses Job’s fortunes. We might read “when he had prayed for his friends” as an interesting but tangential aside. Reading them in context, however, illuminates a recurring theme in the overarching biblical narrative and in our lives: God works through people.

For justice to occur, it is necessary for the community to take responsibility for the work of justice. Job regains double his material goods at the end, partly because the community brings gifts to celebrate and collaborate with God’s restorative justice. (Tina Pippen)

Job is an agent of restoration for both his friends and for himself, but the community also serves as an instrument of restoration. Justice does not only belong to God, it’s a responsibility shared.

In the beginning of Job’s story, he seems doomed to be acted upon. Yet, Job has a say in his story. He wrestles with his condition, his partner, his friends, and his God. This is not a book that encourages platitudes. It doesn’t even promise that everything will be okay. The losses aren’t replaced. Job is made whole. There is a difference. His words reflect that his grief has not been eliminated. He and his Wife will always mourn their children even as they have more children. Although it isn’t stated explicitly, we might also assume that Job, Job’s Wife, and even his friends have been changed by the experience of life’s injustices played out in their midst. The uncertainty birthed from tragedy lives on even in the midst of restoration. No guarantees accompany this shift in fortunes. God doesn’t make everything make sense:

It is true, as often noted, that God’s answer to Job is not quite satisfactory. It does not address Job’s complaints or explain his suffering. But if it did, the book would not be relevant to others who do not receive a theophany to address their case. Hence God points out facts that Job (and anyone else who shares his cultural assumptions) can see or know, namely God’s powers in creation and providence. It must be said that many religious sufferers do just that: they see a meaningful order in the world and when that seems violated they allow themselves to trust God’s wisdom even when it is not manifest. Still, Job’s complaints and demands are not satisfactorily answered. He will never know why he has suffered, and he may remain dissatisfied. This is, after all, the common lot. (Michael V. Fox)

God doesn’t make it make sense. Like so many stories that end happily, we know that if we follow the true trajectory, more suffering will inevitably enter the narrative. The last part of the passage serves as an epilogue in which we are told only the good for the rest of Job’s life. His Wife isn’t mentioned again, but there’s no evidence that she was lost to him or that he married another one. Her restoration is implied here as well. She has her own story, but she gets to keep it to herself. We know that Job’s daughters receive equal treatment to his sons. Not only Job and his family receive restoration; his daughters embody justice realized beyond hope, and humanity receives a hint of the restoration of what was promised in creation before the disconnection occurs.

There are distinct echoes and allusions to the creation and re-creation narratives throughout the book of Job. He loses everything, not due to his actions, but as a consequence of evil introduced into the world and inflicted upon him. It’s not dissimilar from the exile from the garden of the first humans. In both cases, there is a loss of something wonderful, precious, and idyllic. One comes as a consequence of behavior; this one results from a test of character. In each instance, the adversary intrudes in order to disrupt a right relationship between the Creator and the created. In both cases, the Holy One continues to abide with God’s creation. That, after all, is the promise. God will be with us. That covenant given to Noah, his Spouse, and their descendants assures humanity that God will never give up on us. In this story, God commends Job as one who has embraced the covenant and will respond in kind. It’s not that Job’s so-called patience that we should uphold; it’s that Job does not turn from the Holy One who–despite everything of God’s doing, of Job’s doing, or those around Job’s doing–does not turn from Job.

That same God will not turn from us when we are angry and confused. The Creator does not give up on creation that is willful, disbelieving, or disconnecting. The Holy One persists with and pursues us in the midst of life’s conditions. The Sovereign answers our questions and responds to our pain. Michael V. Fox reminds us that:

The book of Job is not for Job; it is for its readers. Readers, who observe Job’s world from above, and who, unlike Job, have read the Prologue, are allowed a privileged, superior perspective and are even given insight into the mind of God.

That insight doesn’t satisfy all our questions, eliminate our lament, erase our suffering, or cure the injustices we encounter. But that privileged perspective does inform us that as we confront adversity, restoration is the end goal and final destination of the journey. Restoration is the part of God’s ultimate plan, and we have a pivotal role to play. Wholeness–and justice–are possible for Job and Job’s Wife, for us, and for creation.

With restoration.

For further reflection:
“The work of restoration cannot begin until a problem is fully faced.” ― Dan Allender
“This in essence is my goal. To set an example by doing what is good. If I live openly and honestly, I set an example of virtue, humanness, restoration, and healing. I give others permission to join me on my journey despite the fear of failure or the rejection it might elicit when they know they are not alone in their experience. The more of us who amass the courage to embark openly on this path, the more normal this experience becomes, effectively eliminating the tactic of shame and isolation that the enemy so often uses to cause us to falter.” ― Riisa Renee
“Every part of your brokenness will play a part in your wholeness.” ― Andrena Sawyer

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.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayer: Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers © 2002 Consultation of Common Texts. Used by permission.