The Sunday Lesson
On most Sundays, I publish the Sunday Lesson. It’s not a sermon or a study but is a short piece with an observation or an application from something I’m reading. I feel blessed and deeply responsible for writing this. I schedule the posts to publish at 1:35 on Sundays after you’re home from church. I’ll banter with all comments, so type away. Be forewarned that I reserve Sundays for my family. It’s a work in progress, but a goal we’re all growing into. So, if I don’t respond, I’m probably playing chess with my daughter or watching lousy TV with my wife. On an outstanding day, I might catch a couple innings of Braves baseball. With my wife, of course. It’s Sunday.
Paul in Malta
“Don’t worry,” they say, “G protects His own…”
There is a religious philosophy, bandied about often by many Christians. Proponents won’t agree, but it’s the philosophy of the snake handler, and it comes from the New Testament story of Paul in Malta.
It was rainy and cold. Brother Paul, always working to avoid being a burden, helped gather sticks for a fire. A snake, frightened and warmed by heat, ‘fastened itself’ onto Paul’s hand.
Locals from Malta huddled together and whispered. They saw the snake hanging from Paul’s hand and immediately judged 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.” (Read the story here…)
Shaking the snake from his hand, Paul was nonplussed and gathered more firewood. The locals, though, having already decided what G was up to, 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, just as sure of themselves as before, they decide he is a god.
Nope, I didn’t make this up…
Remember, too, when Jesus was tempted after forty days of fasting. Satan led him to Jerusalem to the parapet of the Temple, G’s house.
“If you are the Son of God,” Satan said, “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 answered 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 scriptures and in the New Testament, where something occurs 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 as a sign for onlookers. People may argue that everything in a Christian’s life is directed by G, but I don’t see how that can be true and no one – even those who say it – live as if they believe it.
- 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, or a child who uses drugs all equates with G’s anger and your – or my – sinfulness. Escaping the catastrophe proves that G is on our side and that we are righteous. That we’re special. Baloney. None of it makes sense. Were Christians killed in WWII or in Viet Nam? Are Christians sometimes killed on the freeway? Do Christians have illnesses? They will, and they do. This attitude is an overt danger to us, I think, since we’re so happy to judge a neighbor.
- Atop the temple, Jesus could 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 to the coronavirus, that G will protect His own. This makes for an easy metric: get sick, and you must be evil. Jesus made no effort to defend Himself. He knew who He was, and the Father knew who He was, and Satan undoubtedly knew, as well. Defending ourselves almost always escalates a situation.
- I laugh when I read this because of the gossip. First, the locals gossip and decide Paul is a murderer. Then, mere minutes later when things unfold differently than they expect, he’s a god.
- Note that no one is recorded as offering him help.
- Note, too, that this is only one side of the coin. Another is when Jesus says that even if you have faith like a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain to jump into the sea, and it will. Therein lies the mystery…
The take home message?
Love your family, earn your living, and do the work. Quit wasting time trying to parse your life into moment-by-moment slices of G’s will. Take care of those who are marginalized. Pray often. Quit playing with snakes. Trust in G always but don’t put yourself in a position where He has to prove himself.
By way of explanation, I label myself as an agnostic Christian. I attend a Southern Baptist church and am comfortable with Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology and all kinds of Protestant thought. For Bibles, I generally use the Jerusalem Bible, the English Standard Version, and the Amplified Bible. A favorite verse is Micah 6:8 where the prophet says:
G has already told you what is right and what to do: do what is right, love loyalty, and walk humbly with G.