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  • The Rev. Arianne Rice

Devilish Intents

So why does Jesus blame Satan for a crippled woman's bad back? How might it be helpful to first be able to see "good versus evil" before we can think more broadly about our role in conflict? Jesus calls the faithful people "hypocrites" because they are unable to see how being right has taken priority in their religious lives over being good.

Good morning. Good to see you. Its good to be back from a little break. Good to have such nice weather this weekend. How about you? Feeling good this morning? Good.

So – since we’re all feeling good – I thought a good angle for getting into the good news and the lessons this morning would be to preach on – Satan.

Also good to get a chuckle.

I’m serious though. One reason is because Jesus talks about Satan. He says Satan is to blame for this woman’s crippling spine. And the other reason is because – let's face it – Satan, the devil, Lucifer – that personification of evil just captures our imagination.

Did you know that in 2018 til now – Satan having a starring role or important part to play in current TV and movie story lines is at an all-time high? In fact we haven’t seen the Tempter be such a popular character since the late 60s into the mid-70's – you remember then – the popularity of movies like “Rosemary’s Baby” - or “The Exorcist” or Amityville Horror” - or “The Omen.”

This summer my daughter binge-watched a TV show that of course the daughter of someone in my line of work would want to binge-watch – its called “Lucifer.” In this show – the devil gets bored in the place of eternal fire – and so he escapes to earth doing all the evilly devilish things we imagine Lucifer would do – until something dramatic happens which moves him – towards feelings he is unaccustomed to (yes, death and a woman are involved). Anyway – that's the premise and the conflicts of each episode are around his response to change.

That kind of personification of evil is generally what we think of when we think of Satan. A person – a fallen angel – angry at being cast out – and not being held in the same regard as God – who acts out that rage by bringing evil into the world – through specific acts and by convincing, or tricking, manipulating other people – to follow his lead.

We have to think of evil in that way because we personify concepts to make them concrete – to make them real. And it is helpful because it gives us some one – Satan – or some thing – the Devil – to blame.

When bad things happen – when individuals do bad things, evil things – we want to discharge our anger, rage, hurt, grief onto something. That’s what blame is.

Now Jesus blames people to. He gets angry a fair amount – but when Jesus does that, when he points to what has got his Irish up (as we’d say in my family) - he doesn’t blame Pharisee Josephus or Scribe Joe, right? He doesn’t blame individuals. When he’s face to face with the guy who’s sending him to his death – Pontius Pilate, he doesn’t blame or get mad at him at all.

No – Jesus gets mad at the Pharisees, or the scribes. His anger is directed towards the system that they represent and what he sees as their lack of choosing what is good – over what they perceive is right.

Just like this morning’s gospel. You hypocrites he says to them. In this moment the Pharisees do not yet see that Jesus is operating within a system – God's kingdom – that will always choose “the good.” God’s system is designed for eternal human flourishing.

Jesus’ anger is directed towards the rule-based system – which privileges being right, over human goodness.

Teresa of Avila – Do you believe in hell? Yes, just don’t believe anyone is there.

So why does Jesus blame Satan for this woman’s broken back?

First to get everyone there to see that the woman herself, this daughter of Abraham is not at fault for her condition. We know that back in those days people were blamed for being sick. Remember Blind Bartimaeus – who sinned, him or his parents – neither, said Jesus. Illness was not a divine punishment. And we don’t believe it is now – although sometimes, with certain illness, especially ones that are more complicated than broken bones, we still think a person is at fault, or gets what they deserve.

And certainly there are debilitating and crippling situations that break people – lack of access to good education breaks people; lack of access to good healthcare breaks people; poverty breaks people; insurmountable debt breaks people – and yet, sometimes we blame broken people without taking into consideration that crippling circumstances that brought them there.

So I think that’s one reason Jesus says – Satan has bound her – a system bound her for 18 long years. A system doesn’t erase who she is – daughter of Abraham – child of God.

Second – I think Jesus needs to set up a good versus evil choice. Why? Because the Pharisees are good people. Right now they are being hypocritical – we can all do that when it comes to rules. But religious rules can be good. Let me love your commandments we pray. Rules are boundaries – intended also for our human flourishing. Keep the sabbath holy by resting – is a good rule.

And what’s more – the thing about rules in the parent/child relationship for instance – the best metaphor in our tradition for understanding our divine DNA – is that the rule-giver is giving us rules because they love us. Just like parents set boundaries and time limits and make rules for kids.

You have to go to bed – because that’s the rule – not just because I want to binge-watch my TV shows now – but because a good night’s sleep is good for you!

So when Jesus says that Satan has bound this woman for 18 years – he's setting up this dichotomy. Which system are you here to support? Satan’s system that keeps a person bound up – crippled – debilitated? Or God’s system – or kingdom – or ways – meant for her and our flourishing – meant for eternal goodness?

The reason St. Teresa said yes, there is a place of eternal punishment is that for the system of God’s kingdom to make sense for us – and our conceptual limits – we have to have a choice. Free will. So yes, there has to be this place of – no God, no love, no forgiveness, no mercy, no justice. Indeed, don’t you think there are plenty of those places here and now?

But she quips – no one is there – not because of God’s love – but it was beyond impossible for her to believe that once a person has been in the presence of eternal goodness – eternal love – eternal forgivness and mercy and justice – for just even half a second – after crossing the finish line – no one would choose – no God. In a way – it wouldn’t be possible, daughters and sons of God that we are – for us to choose anything other than returning home to Love.

Our challenge is to examine where in our lives we are being hypocrites. In what conflicts, conversations and relationships are we more concerned with being right, over doing the good that is the right thing to do? And in what ways are we aligning our lives with those activities, people and places that leads to our own flourishing? The ways of being in the world that connect with all that is eternally good?

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