The Visit of the Friends II
Bill Long 4/17/05
What Do We, or Don't We, Recognize?
The ambiguity of a literal reading of 2:12 with respect to whether or not the friends recognized Job, discussed in the previous essay, opens the issue of what we are able to see when we look at things. Are we blinded by prejudice? Fear? By an objective change in the thing we have previously looked at? I propose to investigate this issue through a brief consideration of four other biblical passages where people just didn't see what was right in front of their eyes.
Jacob's Failure to Recognize God
When Jacob fled in fear from Esau after deceiving him, the Scriptures say he "came to a certain place" where he slept for the night (Gen.28:11). He dreamed that night of a ladder set upon the earth, with the top reaching to heaven, with angels of God ascending and descending on it. After the dream vision, he received a promise from God that allayed his fears. He awoke the next morning and said, "Surely the Lord is in this place--and I did not know it!" (Gen.28:16). His fear returned, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (28:17). Jacob's failure to recognize God stemmed from fear.
Jesus' Contemporaries--Ideological Blindness
After Jesus took Peter, James and John to witness his transfiguration, where he appeared with Elijah and Moses, the disciples wanted to know what the scribes meant when they said that Elijah had to come before the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus' response is telling: "Elijah is indeed coming and will restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come , and they did not recognize him, but they did to him whatever they pleased" (Mt.17:11-12). John the Baptist was Elijah come again, the rough-hewn prophet who announced the coming of the Son of Man. Not expecting an Elijah-type figure to precede the coming, the scribes had ignored the deeper significance of John's life. Here is an instance of ideological blindness. The powers that be (the scribes) were so invested in their interpretation of how events would turn out and where to look for meaning in events around them that they couldn't recognize the truth of God through John. I see this all the time--the more we get "settled" into our "grooves" (or ruts), the more we seem only to accept truth from approved sources or customary places. The scribes' failure to embrace John emanated from their failure to recognize truth from unexpected sources.
Mary Magdalene--Overcome by Grief
Early on the day that Jesus rose from the dead, Mary, accompanied by a few disciples, ran to the tomb of Jesus. She didn't find the body, and returned to inform the disciples of this fact (Jn.21:1-10). While the other disciples went to the tomb and inferred that something wonderful had happened, Mary was overcome by grief at the turn of events and, to the question of the two angels regarding her grief, said, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him" (21:13). Even when Jesus appeared to her and spoke directly to her, she took him as the gardener. Finally, when he called her name, possibly in a customary way or intonation ("Mary!"), she recognized that it was Jesus who was speaking with her, and she recognized him (21:16). It took two or three tries to wrench her away from the grief which had paralyzed her.
The Disciples--Lack of Hope
Also on that fateful Easter morning Jesus appeared to two disciples as they were making their way along the road to Emmaus (Lk.24:13-35). They were engaged in conversation and failed to notice that Jesus had come upon them. Their true state of mind is captured in one of the verses they spoke to this "stranger." "We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel" (24:21). We HAD hoped, they say. Hope has disappeared, and all that is left is a discussion on what went wrong, on how things might have turned out differently, on how they thought that they were on the right track for so long but, ultimately, they were mistaken. It was not until Jesus joined them in their home for a meal and opened their eyes by the breaking of the bread that their hearts and eyes were opened again: "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?" (24:32).
Bringing it Together
Job's friends barely recognized him when they approached because of the transformation Job had experienced. The combination of the emotional and physical toll of the combined losses made him nearly unrecognizable. Job, however, did not yet realize that his physical transformation was symbolic of a deeper change that was happening to him at that moment--from one who seemingly accepted his fate ("The Lord gives and the Lord takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord"--1:21) to one who would rail against God with volcanic intensity. That moment of realization would dawn on him at the beginning of ch.3.
But what do and don't we recognize in life? To what extent do we allow our griefs, our ideological commitments, our sense of hopelessness, our fear or other emotions to limit the sources or the content of truth as it comes our way? What are we willing or unwilling to hear? To what extent are the answers to the problems that seem to dog us so incessently right there before our eyes? Job's friends, at least at this point, seemed to "hear" him very well. They may have barely recognized him, but they truly suffered with him. We would be fortunate to have such friends when the waves of loss overwhelm.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long