My dad once had me prove I went to church by explaining that Sunday’s sermon.
When I was a kid my parents made me go to mass even though they did not—a hypocrisy of the highest order that drove me mad with its unfairness. After a while, I got wise and would only show up to church to grab the church bulletin; then I’d go down the park and hang out with my friends. My old man got wise to my constantly coming home with mud on my heels & sweat stains on my clothes so he started quizzing me on the gospel each week. So I’d attend mass just to recount it to him. Over time, I came to realize he knew less about the Bible than I did.
So I started embellishing things.
I even started reading the Bible to get some background information for my stories. Did you know there actually is some great stuff in there? Lots of gory battles, and dirty phrases like “jawbone of an ass” and “whore of Babylon”. If they would teach those parts in religion class, I bet a lot more kids would pay attention.
Well, everything came to a head on Sunday morning in September 1977 when I came home from church to find my old man sitting in the kitchen with two of his friends from his job at UPS. It was a weird quirk of my family that we always met with guests in the kitchen rather than the living room.
“Back from church?”
“What was the sermon?”
“Today’s was on the greatest book of all, the Book of Job.”
“Ah, the one with the whale.”
“No, that’s Jonah.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, it’s ‘Jonah and the Whale’ like it says on that record your play on Saturday nights when you drink beer.”
“Don’t get smart. Everyone knows ‘Jonah and the Whale’ is the best book in the Bible.”
“It’s not. Job is. But Jonah is in the top five.” What I was doing here was known in the vernacular of the day as “throwing the dog a bone.” It’s when you agree with somebody just so they shut up and you could move on. I learned it from the big kids. I didn’t think Jonah was in the top five. Maybe not even the top ten. There were lots of other books with stories of lust and gold and great battles and such. Jonah got eaten by a fish—big deal.
But I didn’t feel like arguing with my old man so I threw him a bone.
“So tell me about Job.”
“It can wait till later.”
I moved to go by and the old man caught my arm, tight. “Tell me now.”
I guess he had a point to prove in front of his friends after the reference to his beer drinking so I sat down at the kitchen table with them.
“Well, Job loved God more than an other human being on the planet, by far,” I began. “And God appreciated it. Job had the best crops, raised the best cattle, did the best work. And because he did all this in God’s name God loved him best of all his people.
“The thing Job did most and best of all to please God was to know his wife.” (You may not know this if you haven’t studied the Bible like I have, but “knowing” someone meant having sex with that person. I guess the writers of the scriptures couldn’t just say the F-bomb because of the censors or something, so they snuck it in by calling it “knowing”.) “Job would know his wife every chance he got. Before he went to work. When he came home at night. All the time on the weekends. He did this all to please God because God told his children above all to be fruitful and multiply. And Job, wanting to please God so bad, tried to know his wife every spare moment he had.
“All this knowing pleased God and so he gave Job lots of children. There was always twelve in the house. Six boys and six girls. As soon as one grew up, got married and went away, Job would know his wife and God would send a replacement. God also made sure that the number of children was always balanced. Boys, so they could go out and know their wives to please God like Job, and girls to take care of things at home. This was the wisdom of the Lord.
“Well one day, Satan goes up to God and starts telling God that Job is really more like him, Satan, than like God with all his knowing. Satan says to God, ‘there is knowing and then there is know-ing, if you know what I mean. The first is what you want—to make babies and stuff. And the second is what I want—know-ing just for the hell of it, if you’ll pardon the expression.” Satan was always careful to be mindful of his manners around God, even if he was trying to trick him, out of respect. “I think Job is sneaking in some extra know-ing thinking you won’t catch on.
“God considered this for a moment because he always considers everything, whether he likes the person or not. He kind of feels he has to since he’s God and all. God was about to dismiss Satan; and Satan, catching on, said, ‘Let me prove it to you by taking away all the benefits that all his knowing has done to win your favor. If he still loves you, I am wrong, and I’ll will return to hell and promise not to bother you or cause trouble for a thousand days.’ (They were always making grand promises like that back then.) Well, God considers it, and thinking he’ll surely win, he takes Satan up on his offer. So God and Satan shook on it. They didn’t pinkie swear because that wasn’t invented until the New Testament.
“It’s then when Satan, being a sly fox, says to God ‘and if I’m right you will give me a place on earth to rule and call my own.’ Well this put God in kind of a tough spot because he’d already taken Satan up on the bet and he didn’t want to look like a welcher or, worse, a chicken. So he agreed and Satan went about working Job over.
“For four years Job’s knowing of his wife proved fruitless.” (I have no idea how long it really was but, as I said, my old man knew less than I did when it came to scripture, and four years sounded like a right round number for a bet of this magnitude.) “Job’s crops failed. His cattle ran off. His sons and daughters got married and no matter how much he knew his wife, God never sent replacements.
“Job tried knowing his wife differently to see if the change would please God. He’d stay home from work to know her. He would know her in different parts of the house. One time he had her kneel before him so he could know her that way just to see if the position of penitence would please God. But nothing happened. As an aside, that’s why we have to kneel in confession, because Job’s knowing his wife that way was considered the first one.
“Soon Job and all his knowing became the town scandal. Turns out Job’s wife would talk about it to the other wives when they were filling up their water skins at the town well, or washing clothes off the rock by the stream. This made the other wives jealous, and they went home complaining to their husbands for not knowing them the way Job was knowing his wife. That’s why gossiping is a big sin. Because it creates envy and jealousy which are also sins. But gossiping because it causes the other sins is the bigger one. It’s what they call ’cause-and-effect sins.’
“Well, Job’s friends stopped talking to him because they were angry about all their wives complaining—because now they had to work harder at knowing their wives so they could have something to say down at the well or when washing clothes. They didn’t have television or sports back then, but they sure would rather be doing anything other than knowing their wives if they didn’t have to.
“So by now Job was fed up. One day he was working in his barn when he got the urge to know his wife again, but this time he fought it. Instead of running into the house and knowing her right there in the kitchen he went outside, sat on a rock, and cursed God for his bad fortune. ‘Jesus Lord! I do everything to please you! I know my wife more than any other man yet all you do is punish me! Why? Tell me, for Christ’s sake!’
“As it turns out Satan happened to show up at God’s place that very instant. Laughing he told God he had won the bet and would now have a place on earth to call his own. Satan laughed and laughed. He has one of those weird laughs. It sounds just like Ceaser Romero as The Joker in the original Batman.
“God was not pleased, but he knew he would have to pay up. He was just about to tell Satan which country he could have when Job, feeling remorseful, begged God’s forgiveness and ran into his house and new his wife right then and there. Turns out his wife was having company at the time but Job was so full of sorrow for doubting God he didn’t let that stop him; he knew her right in front of the ladies from her church group.
“Now it was God’s turn to laugh. His laugh is hard to describe because he hardly ever laughs. He’s always got to be so serious cause he runs everything. You’ll just have to take my word for it that he laughed.
“And God was pleased and he made Job profitable again. Soon all his knowing began paying off and he had a house full of kids. His cattle returned and his crops grew. Even his friends came around admitting that a little more knowing wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Especially since their wives were coming home with all these new ways of knowing they learned from Job’s wife. She was still a gossip, but God decided to overlook this because he loved Job so much.
“Incidentally, it was his love of Job that made him name his first son Jesus Christ. Cause that’s what Job called out just before he saw the light.
“Then the priest said, ‘this is the word of the lord’ to which we replied, ‘thanks be to God.’”
I don’t know if my old man knew what the word mortified meant (I still don’t), but that was the look on his face as he came flying across the kitchen table at me. For my part, the world went black for a few hours, but I do remember that he no longer quizzed me on the gospel.
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