Now Is The Time Lent Study

My Redeemer Lives - Reflections 11-6-19

Texts for Sunday November 10
22nd Sunday after Pentecost 

Job 19:23-27a
Psalm 17:1-9
2 Thess. 2:1-5, 13-17
Luke 20:27-38

The Gospel for this week focuses on resurrection. Members of Jewish sect called the Sadducees gather around Jesus in the temple and try to expose how absurd the concept of resurrection is with a trick question about marriage in the afterlife. As always, Jesus is composed and ends up exposing how absurd - and small-minded - their question is. 

Those who produced the lectionary chose the reading from the book of Job specifically for the way v.25 seems to point to resurrection, and more specifically to Jesus as Redeemer. For I know that my Redeemer lives… That phrase has brought a lot of comfort to people over centuries and was made “famous” through the music of Handel’s Messiah. I just went to a funeral this afternoon and I know the power of that statement I know my Redeemer lives and at the last he will stand upon the earth.

But… I’m also aware that the author of Job pre-dates Jesus by several centuries. The story also offers a pre-Jesus meaning. It is really hard to set the Christian lens aside to hear the original setting. In this part of the story, it is especially helpful to look at the Hebrew word translated as “redeemer” in v.25.

First, I need to set the scene: At this point, Job is really ticked off at God. Job, a righteous man, has suffered immeasurable losses. His friends have badgered him for chapters to repent of the sin that has brought all the calamity to his life. They see all the losses as punishment for some action that he just needs to confess and own up to. He is not so happy with his friends either. He has spent chapters refuting those accusations of sin, and railing against God. He wants justice from God for all this innocent suffering. Why do bad things happen to good people? 

Have you done any reading about or heard any of the stories from the Innocence Project? Started by lawyers in 1992, their mission is to exonerate the innocent through DNA testing and reform the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. Some people have waited more than 30 years to be exonerated.  Just stop and take that in for a moment. 30 years. What on earth would that feel like? I can only imagine…anger, despair, and a whole lot of questions. Why will no one listen to me? Why will no one answer my cry for help?

Pre-Jesus Job seems to feel some of that. He feels unheard by God. And unanswered by God. And, he feels like God isn’t going to hear or respond in his life time. In the text we have for today, he talks about making a permanent record of his complaint in v. 23 & 24 – etching it into stone even. 

Then we get to the redeemer part. In Hebrew, the word translated redeemer describes someone in the society – relative or friend - who was tasked with restoring the rights and/or avenging the wrongs of a someone else. Another word to describe that is a vindicator.  Sometimes the vindication happened after the death of that relative. Job here is saying that after I’m dead (skin destroyed), someone, sometime ,will defend and redeem my reputation. Job’s case will not close after his death… Project Innocence will yet exonerate him.

I don’t know if Project Innocence works to prove the innocence of those who have died. I do know that for those living folks who are cleared by Project Innocence, they receive new life. Yep, back to resurrection.

But Job, with that vision of his post-mortem acquittal, wavers a bit. He decides he doesn’t want to wait for his redeemer. This is another Hebrew moment when I rely on people more knowledgeable than I.  Job uses a word that means “But” (NRSV translates it here as “then”). But alive in my flesh and bones, I will see God face to face; I will still demand the answer from God directly: Why me?

The book of Job can comfort us with its permissions. It is ok to get mad at God. Really mad at God. It is ok to question and doubt. It is ok to reject the accepted explanation. The book also speaks of reality. You might have to wait…. a long while…. Can feel like centuries.  And sometimes there is just no answer.

Do you see any resurrection possibilities in those permissions?

I know that my Redeemer lives.... 

Spoiler alert: God does finally talk with Job. But doesn’t really give any answers. And Job lives on with many of his losses restored.

The ELCA developed a Social Statement on Criminal Justice in 2013. It touches on many facets of our current justice system. You can read a summary of the statement here. Or read the whole thing here.

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Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245