Funeral Lectionary: Job 19:1, 23-27a

The Old Testament funeral Lectionary is a small offering compared to the choices of the New Testament. That’s not to say some passages aren’t much loved by those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Christians identify strongly with the suffering Job. I suspect they identify more closely with his calamities than with his long poetic speeches in response to his friends’ arguments in the central section of the book (chapters 4 through 37). In the midst of it all is this passage:

Job answered and said:
Oh, would that my words were written down!
  Would that they were inscribed in a record:
That with an iron chisel and with lead
  they were cut in the rock forever!
But as for me, I know that my Vindicator lives,
  and that he will at last stand forth upon the dust;
Whom I myself shall see:
  my own eyes, not another’s, shall behold him,
And from my flesh I shall see God;
  my inmost being is consumed with longing.

We speak or sing of “Redeemer” more often in connection with Christ, the hope in his Resurrection, and at the funeral. The role of “Vindicator,” however, carries a certain meaning in the tribal Middle East of ancient days that we’ve lost in this brief selection. A family would have a vindicator to stand up for the weaker and more vulnerable members. Big brother or bodyguard might suit. The Franciscan Scripture scholar Michael Guinan suggests a mafia godfather. For a man like Job to call upon a vindicator is curious. His entire family is dead. There is no earthly person to advocate for him. Is he calling on God? Is he desperate and crazy, grasping at any relief?

This Vindicator strikes me as the agent of justice cited or requested so often in the Psalms (146:9bc, Psalm 113:7ff, among many others) and most notably in the Magnificat (Luke 1:53ff). We understand this to be Christ, of course.

Though mystagogues like John Chrysostom would dissent, another interpretation of this passage is the foundation for the Judeo-Christian belief in the afterlife. It has been interpreted in this way, though scholars caution us about reading too much into what remains (in the original scrolls) a very difficult passage to understand.

As for using this passage in a modern funeral, it is popular enough, but not the most frequently used Old Testament reading. If chosen, the family is latching on to their faith in Christ, who is the ultimate vindicator, protector, comforter for the grieving believer. Perhaps if a death were unjust. Or there was a lingering sense of outrage and anger at God. Or it could be as simple as latching on to that single idea: we know Christ lives, Christ conquers, Christ protects.

What do you see in this passage? Why would you choose this reading or decline to use it?

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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