Throughout the year, the Southern New England Conference of the United Church of Christ reproduces the Daily Lectionary for use by churches. These are the suggested readings for March 9th: Job 1:1-22; Psalm 17; and Luke 21:34—22:6. I would encourage you to read these short selections as part of your Lenten practice.
I do not understand why the Consultation on Common Texts (CCT), the ecumenical body of Protestants and Catholics that compiles the lectionary, begins Lent with such a concentrated emphasis upon the devil. We meet Satan once again in today’s selection from Job. The prose sections of this Old Testament book are judged to be very early in the religious history of Israel, while the poetic dialogues come along as a later addition. Our selection today is so early in Israel’s religious formation that Satan takes on an unfamiliar sounding role to our ears.
John Adams, one of the Patriot leaders of the Revolution, was a lawyer. He represented the British soldiers who fired on protesting Bostonians 252 years ago this past Saturday in what came to be known as “the Boston Massacre.” He was much maligned for this, but Adams insisted that for the judicial process to be fair and impartial it required a strong defense for those charged no matter how egregious the alleged crime.
The newly named Supreme Court nominee, Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, may bring a defense attorney’s perspective to the nation’s highest court. This has caused some to question her credentials, but just like John Adams this perspective is an essential element in a fair judiciary.
As unexpected as it may sound to our ears, Satan takes on the unpopular but necessary role of one of the players in the heavenly courtroom. The Hebrew term śāṭān (Hebrew: שָׂטָן) is a generic noun meaning "accuser" or "adversary," and it is derived from a verb meaning primarily "to obstruct, oppose." Satan’s role may not be popular, but neither is it opposed to God’s justice.
Satan, in other words, is not the evil counterpart to God. Satan actually joins the heavenly conclave and, well, plays the devil’s advocate. We read: “Then Satan answered the Lord, ‘Does Job fear God for nothing? Have you not put a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?’” Then, God grants Satan power to harm Job and his family. Satan cannot harm on his own; he cannot act unilaterally. He can only act as God allows.
This reflects the early theology that God was responsible for everything that happened, good and bad. Eventually, believers had a good deal of difficulty with this, and they heaped on the character of Satan, the already unpopular accuser, the power to act independently and contrary to the will of God. Satan took on the darker shadings of the Almighty. This we see in action in today’s Gospel selection where Satan leads Judas into treachery against Jesus.
I think it may be time to take a step away from this whole mythology and realize that we are intelligent and free beings, which makes us in the image of God. As such, we can knowingly and freely choose paths of destruction, and God will not prevent these evils because God will not eviscerate our essential human nature by turning us into robots that can only do as God commands. We can take the easy way out and blame a Satan, or we can choose to face the consequences of our own making and try to do better.
In a world that has no problem bombing civilians as they flee from besieged cities along paths agreed to in formal cease fires, in a world where the unfathomable reality of nuclear weapons has become fathomable, we don’t need Satan. We can do just fine on our own at creating evil. But if evil is our responsibility, then evil is counteracted by Jesus’ gospel – IF we choose to follow it. And this is Jesus’ command to “Be on guard.” May Lent give us time to focus on our lives, to see the harm of evil and the welcome blessing of the gospel.
If you’d like, here is the link to the Southern New England Conference’s daily reading schedule: www.sneucc.org/lectionary.
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