Pain and suffering are so hateful to the whole of humanity that it didn’t take a great leap for people to come to the conclusion that pain and suffering were inflicted on the sinful. So when Job lost his entire family and all of his worldly goods and was physically afflicted with the worst imaginable conditions, his wife and friends came to the conclusion that he must have been a sinner of fairly great magnitude. Most of the Book of Job is a series of conversations between Job and his friends. They tried to get him to admit that he was being punished for wrongdoing. He consistently maintained his innocence. The words we heard this morning are Job’s great affirmation of faith that God would vindicate him and prove that he was not what his wife and so-called friends claimed him to be.
Of course, Job’s convictions were verified by the life of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Though Jesus was innocent, guilty of nothing, and the most righteous person who walked on this earth, he endured the most ignominious and humiliating death, and suffered great physical pain and mental anguish, greater than any other person in history. It was God’s way of saying that Job was right. Bad things do happen to good people.
So when the Christians of the first century were persecuted and tortured by their enemies, they had their faith in Jesus Christ to fall back upon whenever anyone claimed that their plight was a form of punishment that came from God. Because Jesus had suffered, they could suffer knowing that they too would one day be vindicated just as Job had been. In fact, the Acts of the Apostles tells us that they actually rejoiced when they were made to suffer because it clearly aligned them with Jesus.
The Book of Revelation testifies to the faith of the martyrs. Though some might have us believe that this Book paints a picture of things to come in the future, we know that it is really a testament to what the early Christian martyrs suffered. Through their faith, they were able to look forward to a day when God would bring about a new heaven and a new earth, to a day when God would apply the redemptive graces of Christ’s crucifixion and death to all of creation with the possible exception of the sea. The writer claims that the sea will be no more. Some might be chagrined by this fact, especially those who love to cruise or bask on beaches by the sea. However for these people, the sea was a symbol of chaos, a symbol of darkness, a symbol of terror and fright. Consequently, when the sacred writer claims that it will be no more, he is simply stating that the fear, the sorrow, the tears, the pain, and the trouble we experience in this life will be no more. When my niece Emily took to Facebook to write about Grandma, she chose this verse to speak of her faith and of her love.
In the Gospel we hear today, Jesus comforts us with words that speak to us of faith, of hope, and of love. All those who place their faith in Jesus will come to know His Father. All those who hope in Him will find rest. All those who learn the lessons of love as displayed in His life will eventually pierce the darkness of human doubt and fear and come to know God and the love God has for us.
Jesus also speaks of a yoke. Some of you may have heard me speak of this before at other funerals over which I have presided. Pardon me if I repeat myself, but this image is very important to me. Yokes are implements that are used for teams of oxen or horses. They make it possible for two to work as one. Without a yoke, the two animals might struggle against one another rather than working with one another. Jesus asks us to accept his yoke, to learn from him, to learn the lessons of meekness and humility. He claims that this is the way for us to find rest for ourselves. For when we are yoked to Jesus, then his strength, his power, his grace takes over. We are no longer dependent upon our own strength. As St. Paul testifies in his Letter to the Philippians, “I have the strength for everything through Christ who empowers me.”
As we celebrate the life of my mother, let us remember her as a woman who knew that one day her suffering would be vindicated by Jesus, as a woman who believed in a happy future in heaven, and as a woman who bore the yoke of Jesus throughout her life.