Saturday, March 12, 2011

Catty Jesus?

Jesus said to him, "Away with you, Satan!"

On the first Sunday in Lent each year, Christians hear this climactic comment in Jesus' wilderness confrontation with the evil one. This year, I think I feel the barb in how Jesus addresses the devil.

"Satan" is a title. In Hebrew, it has the definite article - not just "satan" but "hasatan," THE Accuser.

Now, that's more than an evocative nickname - it was a status the devil held in a time when he had full access to the presence of God in heaven. In the beginning of the Book of Job, we read

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan [footnote points out "The"] also came among them. The Lord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

As one of my seminary professors put it, the devil seems to have been a kind of "cosmic district attorney," looking for evil on the earth and bringing charges before the cosmic judge.

But like many earthly DAs, the cosmic version assumed an entitlement to higher office. He led a rebellion against God, with the result that

...he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12)

Instead of a moral agent among the divine beings, The Accuser becomes a bitter outcast, denied access to heaven and seeking only to lure the humans he once convicted into his place of ultimate despair,

Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12) Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. (I Peter 5)

Jesus, who Christians know to be the earthly incarnation of the eternal Son of God, saw Satan get the boot,

And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven." (Luke 10:18)

So back to the confrontation in the wilderness, "Away with you, Satan!" takes on a most caustic tone. Were these the divine words spoken when the cosmic judge held the cosmic DA in contempt and booted him forever from the heavenly court?

By calling the evil one by his once exalted title (which seems to be Jesus' precise choice, since Matthew's narration simply uses "tempter" and "devil"), is Jesus goading him with a humiliating reminder of the height from which THE Accuser had fallen?

And in doing this, is Jesus not exalting the usual suspects, you and me? After all, there's Jesus, wearing our weak flesh, reminding our accuser that we can stand vindicated in the presence of God, right in the place where hasatan has lost all standing.

It is a marvelous put down, a catty conclusion to a cross examination in the case by which our Advocate will win our freedom.


Georgia said...

I am sure Jesus had a similar slight in mind when he called Herod 'that old fox.'

Jesus was The Master of the Tongue and He was The Living Word. HE could quite ably amaze the whole crew of self-exalting and self-serving Pharisees, Saducees and priests at age 12 and confound and silence them as an adult.

TLF+ said...

Amen, Georgia! That would make a good book - "Jesus best put downs" or something... of course, too many people would abuse it, thinking it an excuse for our own fallen sarcasm.