Proper 17-A Exodus 3:1-15; Rom 12:9-21; Mt 16:21-28
Christ the King, Oshtemo Fr. Joseph Neiman
Theme: “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me” (Mt 16:23)
“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me, for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things” (Mt 16:23). Matthew tells us this is a statement of Jesus to Peter! It is made very shortly after Peter’s confession of faith when Jesus asked: “Who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God.” Then Jesus said to Peter, Matthew tells us: “Blessed are you Simon, son of Jonah!” (Mt 16:15-17). Quite a contrast with “Get behind me Satan”!
Let’s talk about Satan. Some of you are old enough to remember the Flip Wilson TV show in which one of his crazy characters, Geraldine, used to say regularly to explain her deviant behavior: “The devil made me do it.” That soon became a popular American saying. What do we know about Satan, about the devil? Hollywood has conditioned us to see the Devil or Satan in certain ways. Many of us have seen the movies, like the Exorcist, where the person possessed by a devil has a spinning head, green vomit, a bouncing bed and such things. Other movies emphasize other demon styles. All of them stress a personal force for evil.
Some versions portray the devil or Satan in the style of a goat with horns and a tail. You will find this image in the Book of Leviticus where one goat is sacrificed before the Lord in the Tent of Meeting in atonement for the sins of the people. The other goat is sent out into the desert to Azazel, the name for the evil spirit who dwells in the wilderness (c Levt 16:7-10). The man who sends the goat into the desert is instructed also to wash his clothes and his body before coming back into the presence of the rest of the people (16:23).
From the beginning of biblical times, as reflected in the earliest books of the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament), the Israelites spoke of the forces of evil, such as the snake which tempted Adam and Eve in the garden, but the personal name of Satan or Lucifer did not come into their tradition until nearly the time of Christ, i.e. after the return from the Exile in ancient Babylon where they encountered Zoroastrianism with its belief in the struggle between the gods of good and the gods of evil.
The Hebrew word, “Satan,” is a role descriptive word, like “doctor” or “pastor.” It literally means “the adversary”. We see it used in a general way early in the Bible, such as in the First Book of Kings where it is said “the Lord raised up an adversary (a satan) against Solomon” (1 Kings 11:23). These were humans who were adversaries who opposed God’s will for the people.