As I sit here thinking about Job's friends, part of me wonders what they were thinking as they sat with Job. We are told in the story that when Job's friends are first coming to him, they see him and do not recognize him. He is so disfigured by grief and affliction (specifically, his physical affliction) that they aren't sure the man they are looking at is their friend. They probably turn their eyes away in both grief and disgust; it's a natural reaction.
But they keep going anyway. They keep walking straight toward the man they do not recognize, expecting when they get there that this will be their friend that they have journeyed to see. And...maybe...hoping it won't be. Hoping they're wrong about the severity of Job's affliction. Hoping it's not as bad as it looks from this far away.
And...they stay. When they come upon the man they don't recognize and discover that it is, in fact, their friend - covered in boils and scabs, swollen beyond recognition, miserable and downtrodden - they sit down in the dirt and ashes right next to him.
That says something about Job's friends, something important. It tells us what kind of friends they are. Sure, we want to give them a bad rap for their limited insight, but let's not look past their incredible compassion.
They weren't going to win any awards for being here. The townspeople weren't gathered around, watching to see who was going to step into this mess. Probably no one noticed they were there at all, and even if they were, so what? Do you deserve special recognition for being present for a common man? Sure, Job was well-known in the area, but we don't see those who respected Job lining up to comfort him; only his friends come and do that. And they do it pretty quietly, we presume. Because no one is paying much attention to the swollen, scabbed, bleeding man in dust and ashes.
They can't. He's unclean.
So this isn't going to come back and hang on their walls. There will be no keys to the city, no proclamations in their honor. Not even a lousy certificate. Nothing.
Nor could we say that they believe Job is going to reward them. He has nothing left to give them. No house to invite them to, no food to serve them, no extra sets of clothing to bestow upon them. He's got nothing. And his friends don't honestly expect him to get it back. They believe he's lost it all as an act of God's judgment; Job is a sinner.
Yet, they cannot keep themselves from this sinner.
Isn't that remarkable? I mean, isn't it? This story is in the Old Testament. It is told in a time of judgment, harsh judgment. It is told in a time of strict laws and ideas about cleanness. It is told in a culture that cuts off the hands of thieves and stones adulterers to death and holds sinners accountable to the very last hair on their heads, and here are three guys who know only what they know about God, who know only enough to know His power and His judgment, and they can't stop themselves from walking toward a sinner that they love. Even with as little as they have to offer him.
It's strange to say it because we are so hard on these men, so hard on them for their limited knowledge and brash words and blind insistence on their own understanding, but oh, that we would be more like Job's friends! Oh, that we would be a people who keep walking toward sinners we love, even when they are so disfigured by their affliction that we hardly recognize them.