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In these times, it seems like the "Great Accuser" has been unchained and is attacking bishops. True, we are all sinners, we bishops. He tries to uncover the sins, so they are visible in order to scandalize the people. The "Great Accuser," as he himself says to God in the first chapter of the Book of Job, "roams the earth looking for someone to accuse." A bishop's strength against the "Great Accuser" is prayer, that of Jesus and his own, and the humility of being chosen and remaining close to the people of God, without seeking an aristocratic life that removes this unction. Let us pray, today, for our bishops: for me, for those who are here, and for all the bishops throughout the world. (Pope Francis homily at Casa Santa Marta, Sept. 11, 2018)
His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each, on his day; and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, "It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts." Thus, Job did continually. (Book of Job, 1:4–5)
In the homily at Casa Santa Marta quoted above, Pope Francis sounded the "Great Accuser" theme he may intend to serve instead of any direct response to the testimony of his former papal nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, about the Pope's role in covering up the predominantly homosexual delicts of clerics like ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. To give a semblance of righteousness to his refusal to address Viganò's report, the Pope relies on the first chapter of the Book of Job.
As I pondered its text context, I found myself remembering the often repeated and sage advice of a good friend, with whom I often read and discuss the Scripture: Before making use of a Biblical passage to support some point we want to make, it's imperative to pray to God for the grace to see what He intends for it to convey.
In the first chapter of Job case, neither text nor context appears to correspond to Pope Francis' intention. When God asks what he has been doing, Satan responds that he has been on Earth, wandering about. The text does not refer to accusation. In the context, Job is the one who presumes that his sons may "have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts." This presumption leads him to "rise early in the morning" and "offer burnt offerings ... continually."
Now, God makes it clear that, in His view, Job is so righteous that "there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who ... turns away from evil." God does not find fault in the fact that Job is not just predisposed to accuse his children of sinning— He assumes they are and acts accordingly. Even more to the point, God's confidence in Job's righteousness is such that He invites Satan to test him. As it turns out, the most critical part of the test involves being accused of unrighteousness.
Does God set Job up to be accused in to scandalize him? Or does His willingness to do so reflect His confidence that Job trusts God so completely that his faith will not falter or fail, no matter how strongly adversity impels him toward doing so? On account of Job's righteousness, God does not even entertain the possibility that Job will be scandalized. He knows that Job's true faith (i.e., his implicit and unfailing trust) in God will be proof against even the most harshly discouraging tests of suffering.
Unlike the Pope's use of the Biblical passage, God does not oppose or even rebuke the prospect of Satan's activity. To the contrary, He appears to encourage and even instigate it. God's superlative confidence in Job's good heart takes the focus away from Satan, placing it instead entirely on Job and setting the stage for a display of wondrous and unfailing faith. For God is the Alpha and the Omega. He is present in every iota of time. Therefore, when He praises Job's devotion, He knows whereof He speaks.
With this in mind, we look forward to what is to come with certainty, because God's well-informed confidence in him has already verified Job's loyalty to God. We thirstily drink in every word, praying that God will grace the eyes, ears and portals of our understanding, so that we may comprehend, in His report of Job, the information of steadfast love, respect and trust in God that it imparts.
Reverent readers of God's word are not, therefore, surprised — though they are nonetheless exalted — when, from the nadir of utter desolation, Job fulfills God's expectation. Instead of cursing God and turning to death as consolation, he holds fast to God's righteousness. In spite of undeservedly suffering every humiliating pain unrighteousness deserves he proclaims his certain knowledge of God's salvation:
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eye shall behold, and not another.
What Job foresees at last, and trusts in, despite his suffering, we can see and trust in the present day on account of knowing God in Christ and accepting Him within our very selves. On Earth, Christ stood, in the wake of John the Baptist, not only to preach repentance of our will but to show and be the way to restore the loving will of God for our humanity, which has been — from before the beginning of the world — to instill and preserve true life in us forever.
For he was foreknown before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:20)
And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory which I had with you before the world was made. (John 17:5)
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. He destined us in love to be his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. (Ephesians 1:3–6)
Does the people of God in Christ have anything to fear from accusations? No more than Job did, from the accusations his misfortunes led his so-called friends to level against him. No more than Christ did, from the witnesses brought falsely against him because, in word and deed, he taught and enacted God's will. The body of Christ ascended has nothing to fear from his accusers now. Nor does his living body, still here on Earth, working through all the members of the Church who acknowledge and walk in his way. They may trust in the words of Jesus when he says:
Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed or hidden that will not be known. Whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. (Luke 12: 2–3)
So, have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. (Matthew 10:26)
For there is nothing hidden, except to be made manifest; nor is anything secret except to come to light. (Mark 4:21)
It seems strange that one who may claim to be the Vicar of Christ should fear any cause brought against him in the name of truth. If, as Christ did, he stands as someone sent by God in truth, what accusation is proof against that standard? Let it be heard, examined and judged, with confidence in God's mandate.
If, like Job, he stands in righteousness, already approved by God, what accusation is proof against that stand? Let it be heard, examined and judged with confidence in God's regard for right. And if, like Adam, he seeks to cover up his sin, let it be discovered now, for in Christ there is forgiveness in the very cross that humanly represents the punishment for sin. If one repents, for love of God, what more has anyone to offer than what Christ already paid?
"Many words do not satisfy the soul; but a good life eases the mind and a clean conscience inspires great trust in God." (Thomas à Kempis, Imitation of Christ, The Second Chapter)