Get Away from Me! Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Lent 1, 2014) In the drama of Job, probably the oldest story in our bible, Job is accused or slandered by ha satan. The satan, the accuser, the slanderer says that Job is only a devout person of faith because his life has been so easy. If […]
Get Away from Me!
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Lent 1, 2014)
In the drama of Job, probably the oldest story in our bible, Job is accused or slandered by ha satan. The satan, the accuser, the slanderer says that Job is only a devout person of faith because his life has been so easy. If he were less lucky, then he might be less faithful.
Now, in the story, God takes the bet! God willingly allows Job to suffer unimaginable disappointments and heartaches and Job, though he asks a lot of questions and complains quite a bit, never gives up on his ideals, never quite abandons hope, never is willing to believe that his suffering is deserved or that it can’t be turned around. Job remains faithful, even though God in the story seems pretty petty to allow a good person to suffer just to prove a point.
Also, in the story, ha satan is not evil. The accuser has full access to the court and council of God. Walks right into the place, has the pass codes, has the key to the executive wash room, eats in the angelic lunchroom. He is the accuser; that’s his job. So when he brings charges against Job, he’s only doing what he is meant to do. The accuser doesn’t become the boogie man until much later as the stories continue to evolve.
In the story of Job, the accuser slandering Job and God taking the bait are not excuses for Job. He is responsible for how he reacts to whatever happens in life. He doesn’t cause every terrible thing to happen, he doesn’t deserve every terrible thing that happens, but how he responds to events and circumstances is his choice; and what he thinks and says and does in response to difficulties are completely in his power. Ha satan doesn’t make Job do anything, and neither does God. Job is responsible for his attitudes and choices.
By Jesus’ day, Satan has developed a more nefarious character. In fact, he now looks more like the Persian deity, Angra Mainyu (destructive spirit).
When the Jewish people were conquered by the Persian empire, they were exposed to the Persian religion, Zoroastrianism, the religion of the Magi earlier in Matthew’s gospel.
In Zoroastrianism, the previous Persian pantheon was reduced by the philosopher Zoroaster to just two deities…the benevolent Ahura Mazda and the malevolent Angra Mainyu.
After the Persian domination, some communities started to refer to a mischievous being opposed to God and God’s people, and the previously non-nefarious but still accusatory ha satan became the one to fill the role. In fact, Matthew is writing is just 300 years after the period of Persian domination. That’s just about the right amount of time for a myth to take hold of a community’s imagination.
But it is important to remember, the satan’s debut way back in Job was not the face of all evil nor was he the cause of human evil…it wasn’t until much later that people would try to escape personal responsibility by claiming “the devil made me do it.”
Now, let’s back up 500 years before Jesus, almost 600 years before Matthew’s writing. And this time instead of going to Persia, let’s go to Nepal and India.
There once was prince named Siddhartha. He lived a sheltered, privileged, and happy life. While still a young man he wandered off beyond the idealic life of the royal court and he say poverty and illness. He was devastated to learn that there was real suffering in the world. He felt compelled to learn the cause and the cure for suffering, so he left his family and became a monk in search of spiritual enlightenment.
After suffering himself from needlessly harsh religious practices, Siddhartha one day was ready to simply meditate until the answers he longed for could be revealed. He took his place under the Bodhi tree to meditate until he achieved enlightenment, and while he was in deep meditation the demon Mara tried to distract, or “tempt” him so that he would become focused on petty matters and thereby delay enlightenment.
Mara means “one who wounds” and is sometimes called “Lord of the ego”, the sense of smallness and separateness that causes one to be afraid and insecure.
The three temptations of Siddhartha were:
Mara’s three (& very beautiful) daughters approached Siddhartha in an attempt to seduce him (their attempts failed).
A vast army stormed toward Siddhartha, but all the while he continued meditating and when the army showered their arrows down on him, the arrows magically became lotus blossoms and didn’t hurt him at all.
Mara approached Siddhartha personally to persuade him to return to the court of the king (who just happened to be Siddhartha’s father). Hoping, obviously, to appeal to some sense of greed or fear of lack, Mara tried to persuade Siddhartha to claim his place as his father’s heir and enjoy the power and privilege that would afford him.
Lust (out of balance desire), fear, and greed (scarcity thinking that leads to hoarding or selfish action) are the three things that could keep Sidhartha from becoming spiritually awake. He overcame the temptations thus became the Buddha, the awakened one. And after his awakening, or enlightenment, he spent another 40 years leading others in the paths of enlightenment.
The Buddha’s ministry began (though he had been a religious hermit already) after the “wilderness” experience of sitting under the bodhi tree meditating and overcoming the temptations that could have sabotaged his enlightenment.
500 years AFTER the time of Buddha, a Galilean prophet, Jesus, is said to have gone into a wilderness for a time of fasting and prayer (meditation). Following this wilderness experience he would begin his world changing ministry, after confirming within himself his anointing (enlightenment), the divine power on his life making him the “Christ.”
The tempter that challenges Jesus is often called “Satan” (ha satan in Job & Zechariah) which means “the accuser.” In Greek it is rendered “diabolos” and means “slanderer” and he heard some of his story ma few minutes ago.
Jesus, like Sidhartha, faces three temptations:
To break his fast (tempted with lust for food)
To needlessly put himself at risk by leaping from a tall place (weapons of harm being heights and stones rather than spears and arrows)
To entertain the possibility of militaristic rule, rising up against governments in an attempt to make himself a ruler.
We only read the first of three this morning, but if we read verses 5-10 we would have heard the other two.
Lust, fear, and greed…the same temptations as in the older, Eastern myth.
Both spiritual traditions seemed to realize that these emotions, uncontrolled, could sabotage spiritual growth.
The point isn’t to literalize Mara or Satan or Angra Mainyu or any other fictional monster.
In fact, Matthew 4.10 has Jesus dismissing his imaginary adversary by saying, “Get away from me Satan!” We don’t have to believe in, entertain, be afraid of, or engage the lies that Mara, Angra Mainyu, or Satan symbolize. We can just move past the need for these mental monsters, shoo them away and move on free from their attempts to keep us from knowing how truly magnificent we are! In the temptation story today, Satan has no more power than Jesus will give him over him, and Jesus chooses to give him none so he has none. Our demons only have the power we give them and we cut off their power supply today! We are the power! We created the demons, and we can banish them to nothingness from which we summoned them.
Lent is the journey where we realize that Mara is just our ego trying to make us feel small.
Angra Mainyu is just the symbol for all that is unlike God, but anything unlike God isn’t real, so Angra Mainyu is just the lie that we could ever be beyond God’s omnipresence.
Satan is just the deception, the slanderous accusation that we are anything less than incarnations of divine love.
Once we overcome the temptation to play small, then we have infinite reserves of hope and generosity and goodwill to share.
And sharing the best of what we really are is life-giving, and embracing what is life-giving is the message of Easter.
Beliefs are just well rehearsed opinions; Lent can be a time to practice new and more empowering thoughts and attitudes.
There’s not a spot where God is not, so there is no wilderness beyond grace, no desert apart from goodness, no wasteland beyond hope, no place in the entire universe where we could ever be separated from the love that God is.
When we can believe in our goodness, like Job, even when the world seems to be coming apart all around us, then that goodness will eventually be made manifest in our experience again. Lent can be a season of intention where we live more and more into the awareness that we are part and parcel of the perfect wholeness we call God. And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
To anything that would deny my innate goodness…
To anything that would deny my sacred value…
I now say, “Get away from me! And I am free. Amen.