Sunday Lesson – Putting God to the Test

On most Sundays, I post a brief vignette of the life of Jesus and consider how it relates to our lives. I try hard not to preach. My goal is both to understand what the writer writes, and what the hearers heard. I leave the what it really means to others, smarter than me, and more bold. It’s impossible for me to do this without bias, and I will address it when I see it. I’m comfortable with Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant theologies. I believe by faith, not logic, and whatever I glom onto, I hold in an open hand, loosely.

I focus here on the life of Jesus since Christians are called to be a little Jesus.

My current plan is to post these vignettes for a day only and take them down. Changes may come.

Don’t worry they say, G protects His own…

There is a religious philosophy, bandied about now by many Christians.  Proponents won’t often agree, but it’s the philosophy of the snake handler and it comes from the New Testament story of Paul visiting Malta.

It was rainy and cold. Paul, always working so as not to be a burden to anyone, was helping to gather sticks for a fire. A snake, warmed by heat, ‘fastened itself’ onto Paul’s hand.

Locals from Malta huddled together and started whispering. They saw the snake hanging from Paul’s hand and started in on him, sure they knew what G was up to. “So, this guy escaped a shipwreck, but God won’t let him get away. DOUBTLESS, he is a murderer.”

Paul saw the snake and shook it off into the fire. Probably to gather another stack of firewood. For Paul, it was a non-starter. But the locals kept watching for his hand to plump, waiting for him to fall dead. He kept working while they watched and gossiped, and never fell over. So, sure of themselves, they decided he was a god.

We remember, too, when Jesus was tempted after forty days of fasting. The devil ‘led him to Jerusalem and set him on the parapet of the Temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said to him, “throw yourself down from here, for the scripture says,

He has given his angels orders about you, to guard you,”

And again:

“They will carry you in their arms
In case you trip over a stone.”

But Jesus answer him,

“‘Scripture says,
Do not put the Lord your God to the Test.”

A few things interest me here:

Paul was bitten by a snake as a matter of course while working. He wasn’t putting himself in a position to require G to perform, to test G’s faithfulness. As a biologist, I can explain why a snake would strike in this situation, it’s what they do. There are times, though, in both the Hebrew scripture and in the New Testament, where an action is performed precisely as a sign. There is no indication of that here. There’s no indication that either Paul or G put this circumstance in motion for a sign for the people to see.

The locals of Malta measured a man’s relationship with G by his outward successes.  So do we. It’s a common theme: illness, catastrophe, and in today’s case, a pandemic, equates with G’s anger and your – or my – sinfulness. Escaping the catastrophe proves that G was on our side and that we are righteous people. That you’re special. Baloney. None of it makes sense. Were Christians killed in WWII or in Viet Nam? Are Christians sometimes killed on the freeway? Will Christians be stricken with the coronavirus? They will. It has no bearing on their relationship with G. This is a special danger to us, I think, so happy are we to judge a neighbor.

Atop the temple, Jesus had a chance to prove to Satan that He was who He said He was. But, Satan already knew. It was a waste of time, A capitulation to an evil request. Yet, even today, I read that Christians feel they are immune from the coronavirus, that G will spare His own. This makes for an easy metric: get sick and you must be evil. A murderer is what the Maltan’s said of Paul.

Last, not outlined above, is the New Testament urging for all people – everyone – to obey the governing authorities. Augustine said that government is a necessary evil and that it is necessary because of evil. Let’s not prove that to be true.  Stay inside. Call friends when you go out to see if they need anything. Love each other. Be kind.

In closing, I refer to a verse I often call on when people wonder what the right thing to do is :

You have already been told what is right
And what Yahweh wants of you.
Only this, to do what is right,
To love loyalty,
and to walk humbly with your god.



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