5 Ordinary B – February 5, 2012 – It Is What It Is. Really?
Job 7:1-4, 6-7; Psalm 147:1-6; 1 Cor 9:16-19, 22-23 and Mark 1:29-39
Do clichés bother you? “My bad” for example, is a popular way of saying, “I am sorry I made a mistake.” Instead of, “Thank you” at the checkout counter we hear, “You’re all set!” Another one often heard is this one: “It is what it is.” This trite phrase is used most often to imply that something has happened, there is nothing I can do about it, I am trying to forget it and move on with my life.
Is that what Job thought when he lost his job and had to foreclose on his house? Imagine, that when Jesus heard that Peter’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever, he said, “Hey, it is what it is!”
It is hard to find out how clichés get started. I looked up “it is what it is” and many sources believe that writer Susan Sontag used the expression in her essays on contemporary complacency. Sontag who struggled with cancer for years before she died believed that the function of criticism is to show “how it is what it is … rather than show what it means.” 
Why is it that so many people who suffer from one thing or another give up and say, “It is what it is” while others want to find out how it is what it is and then try to do something about it?
Last week in Mark’s gospel we heard how evil spirits obeyed the words of Jesus. This week the story is about Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law. The thread is the same. Jesus had a commanding power and authority over evil in the world. Well, if that is true, why doesn’t God come to the rescue of all those good people who are suffering in the world because of illness, inequalities, war and corruption? It is an age old question. Some might say, “It is what it is.”
The legendary story about Job in the first reading this morning is a perfect set up for today’s gospel. As the story goes, Job and his family were doing just fine until, for some unknown reason, God decided to test Job’s faithfulness by punishing him. Job believed he didn’t do anything to deserve the penalties and went to his three buddies for advice. Thirty chapters in the book tell of the conversations between Job and his friends.
We remember that the Israelites then believed in a just but powerful God. If you followed God’s commands you had nothing to worry about. If you did not, you were in for some devastating experiences. Just think of this: God actions were controlled by the way humans thought about God. (Is that true today?) So the three buddies said to Job, look you must have done something wrong to get God so angry. You had better go to confession!
Bishop John Spong  suggests in his writings that Job’s story is about the meaning of life. Job is trying to figure out if God really exists. If God is just then how can God punish an innocent man and his family. If God is not just, does God exist? The way the Israelites thought about God was not helpful to Job. That theology could not explain Job’s personal experience of God and so Job, without losing faith, questioned his religion and his God.
Rather than rely on old theological assumptions about rewards and punishments, Job wanted to envision God and his life in a totally new and positive way. Instead of seeing himself always at the mercy of an unpredictable, illusive, invisible supreme Being, Job saw himself as an active agent in whatever God was doing. This approach would not hurt, he thought. It is silly to think you can control the way God works so … I have to do something about improving my life myself. Job never would have said, “It is what it is” and then give up, anymore than Jesus would have used that cliché in his ministry.
The passage we heard this morning does not at all depict a feisty Job. It describes him as a rather downtrodden, despondent, melancholic individual. He said, “I shall never see happiness again.” Well, he was wrong. In the end he sorted things out with God and lived happily every after; not because God did something but because Job did something.
So who are we like? A Job who is willing to reach beyond the limits of even his own religious imagination to give meaning to his life? To do so we might find ourselves arm wrestling with God. Or, are we like others who settle for what is without searching for new ways to survive. In this case we might find ourselves arm wrestling, not with God, but with ourselves.
There are certain things in life we have absolutely no control over. We cannot blame anyone, or God, for them. You know those lists. Bad things do happen to good people. There are other problems in the world, however, caused by humans, that do need to be addressed. As Paul suggested in today’s second reading, it is our responsibility to hold them accountable. We can also tend to our own actions. Our own lives can grow if we are willing to venture out of our boxes and imagine new possibilities for ourselves like Job did. The lives of others who are despairing can be spirited by those whose vision for a better world is bright.
It is what it is? That’s one cliché we can do without if we want to advance God’s kin-dom here on earth.
2 Spong, John Shelby. Re-Claiming the Bible for a Non-Religious World (NY: Harper One) 2011, p. 163 ff.