Scripture: Job 13:13-19
“Let my declaration be in your ears,” Job says. “Who is there that will contend with me?” (13:17, 19).
The question hangs in the air unanswered. That’s how it feels today, this month, this year as the president proposes a 50 billion dollar increase in military spending to build up his war machine, as he ramps up efforts to deport members of our communities who haven’t received official residence documents, as he ordered discrimination against Muslims who aren’t U.S. citizens, including blocking refugees from entering the United States.
“I have indeed prepared my case…Who is there that will contend with me?” (13:18-19).
I’ve joined the multitudes on the streets—at protests, marches, rallies and prayer vigils, our bodies making a case for a different kind of America, a different vision for this country. A vision for multiracial communities where people of different faiths are neighbors to one another and a land where children don’t live with the daily fear of their parents’ deportation. I’ve stood in crowds, holding signs, reaching our words toward the sky—“Black Lives Matter,” “Jesús was an immigrant,” “No importa de dónde eres, estamos contentos que seas nuestro vecino.” I’ve chanted declarations against patriarchy, against white supremacy, against religious bigotry—and as our voices echo from building to building, words absorbed into the clouds, I’ve wondered, “Who is there that will contend with me, with us?“
In 2004 I was at a retreat in Birmingham, Alabama: a time for prayer, reflection and worship. One afternoon Jim Douglass, a friend at the retreat, took us to a street corner downtown where we stood with him, cardboard signs in our hands, protesting the U.S. war in Iraq. We stood with him for an hour—sometimes silently and sometimes in prayer, sometimes chatting with one another and sometimes breaking out in a song. Afterwards, Jim told me that he stands there every Saturday afternoon, most of the time by himself. “It’s part of my prayer life,” he said, “I tell God about the injustice going on, and I hope the people driving by overhear.” Protest as declaring his case before the skyscrapers in downtown Birmingham, his words and sign as prayers—a prayer to anyone who will contend with him: to God, to neighbors, to us.
“I have indeed prepared my case; I know that I shall be vindicated” (13:18).
Job won’t give up, even in the silence. There’s a struggle for hope in these verses from Job; there’s hope in his protests and prayers—hope that he will get a hearing, that ears would be opened, that God would respond with justice. And we are there with Job in his struggle for hope—all of us who are praying and marching together, crying out for a way of peace in the midst of violence, calling for God’s love in the midst of fearsome dehumanization. “I will speak,” we say with Job, “and let come on me what may” (13:13).
During this season of Lent, we re-learn the discipline of hope—of declaring truth no matter the costs, no matter who is listening: the truth about ourselves and our communities, about this country and this world. And we do the work of hope, of standing and singing and shouting together, in our churches and in the streets, because we know that our God liberated Israel from oppression, empowered Hagar to survive in the wilderness, overshadowed Mary with the strength to bear our salvation, raised Jesus from death’s grasp—and this same God will be our vindication. This is the One who has promised never to leave us nor forsake us. This is the God we have invited into our lives to convert us into people of righteous justice, to transform us into people of the gospel, that we may become a living sanctuary for Christ’s peace, that God shall make us anew, heaven breaking into earth—in our hearts and lives, in our households and neighborhoods, in our church and this society.
Isaac Villegas is pastor of Chapel Hill (North Carolina) Mennonite Fellowship.