“I will not leave you orphans…”

In today’s gospel, Jesus says to his disciples, “I will not leave you orphans…” In this time of so many ordeals, crises, and tragedies, how do these words sound to us? Do they sound discordant? Facetious? Comforting? Hopeful?

I’m reminded today of a chapter titled “Job: Our Contemporary” in Elie Wiesel’s book Messengers of God. This is how Wiesel discusses God’s response to Job:

Actually, God said nothing that Job could interpret as an answer or an explanation or a justification of his ordeals. God did not say: You sinned, you did wrong. Nor did He admit His own error. He dealt in generalities, offering nothing but vast simplifications. Job’s individual experience, his personal misfortunes mattered little; what mattered was the context, the overall picture. The concept of suffering was more important than suffering; the question of knowledge was more important than knowledge. God spoke to Job of everything except that which concerned him; He denied him his right to individuality.

And yet, instead of becoming indignant, Job declared himself satisfied. Vindicated. Rehabilitated. He asked for nothing more; as far as he was concerned, justice had been done. The fierce rebel, the fighter who dared to face God and speak up as a free man, abruptly bowed his head and gave in. No sooner had God spoken than Job repented. Was he so proud of having inspired the divine poem, so satisfied to have heard God’s voice, that he forgot both content and principle? Was he so impressed with the celestial voice that he forgot his resolution? No sooner had God finished His sermon than Job pulled back and withdrew his questions, canceled his complaints. Said he: Yes, I am indeed small, insignificant; I had no right to speak, I am unworthy of Your words and thoughts. I didn’t know, I didn’t understand. I couldn’t know. From now on I shall live with remorse, in dust and ashes.

And so, there was Job, our hero, our standard-bearer, a broken, defeated man. On his knees, having surrendered unconditionally. God magnanimously allowed him to stand up again. And live again.

The Lord answered Job “out of the whirlwind” with a whirlwind of questions (Job 38-39). Why is Job satisfied by the Lord’s questions? While the mystery of suffering is very deep, we learn from the story of Job that the truest “answer” to suffering isn’t so much an answer, but a Presence; Job is satisfied because God showed up, and that was enough.

“I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you,” says Jesus in the good news of today.

And out of the whirlwind will come the Holy Spirit:

“Thou, of comforters the best;
thou, the soul’s most welcome guest.”

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