Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Devil and Jesus Quote Scripture at Each Other

Lectionary readings for February 17, First Lent. Deut. 26:1-11, Ps. 91:1-2, 9-16, Rom. 10: 8b-13, Luke 4:1-13
By Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

Whenever the lectionary leaves verses out of a passage, I set to reading those bits. I'm not sure why verses 3-8 are left out of Psalm 91 (maybe just to shorten the reading) but maybe it's to leave out troubling implications of 7-8. Here, the righteous person is saved while those around her/him succumb to arrows or pestilence or some other nasty. This is the "punishment of the wicked." This smacks of prosperity gospel thinking with the good prospering and the evil getting the smackdown. But this doesn't jive with reality. We all know of evil people who strike it rich/healthy, and good people who are poor/sick. Verse 15 seems more real; "I will be with them in trouble..." Here it's much easier to see that trouble comes even to the righteous. To quote some scripture; "the rain falls on the just and the unjust. (Matt. 5:45) Faith doesn't give us a ticket out of trouble, but a tool for dealing with it.
I don't want to leave out nasty bits like verse 7-8. These are good for generating discussion and discernment-helping us to engage each other in some good interpretive work.

In the Luke passage, the story of the temptation of Jesus, the devil quotes a bit of Psalm 91 to Jesus. "He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you, and on their hands they will bear you up..." Jesus refuses to go with this convenient interpretation to serve himself, and quotes back; "it is said, do not put the Lord your God to the test." 

Interesting how the interpretation of scripture is at issue here-simply quoting verses and taking them at face value is certainly not what Jesus is about! This is a wonderful, and humbling, reminder for all of us to read the left out bits, ask questions, engage each other for help, and listen for differing interpretations that may help us to hear God's voice more clearly.

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