In the Lectionary

August 26, Ordinary 21B (Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69)

Before judging individuals for their sin, we should try to understand the forces of evil influencing them.

The spiritual forces of evil are a reality in our world. Many atrocities attest to this truth, from slavery and genocide to mass incarceration and the separation of families. As part of our journey of faith, many of us seek an answer to a very old theological question: Where does evil come from? Some theologians have concluded that evil was created by humans’ free will: through the first humans’ willful disobedience of God’s sole commandment, sin entered into the world. Consequently, sin has power over the individual as long as the individual, through the gift of free will, chooses to do evil over good.

This is why, in most Christian traditions, when people commit sin they are treated as autonomous individuals fully conscious and responsible for their own thoughts, motivations, and actions—people who have willfully decided to disobey God. It is left to individuals to try to exert their free will and resist the devil’s temptations. Often the individual is accused of having weak faith, of not being strong enough to resist the power of sin.

However, as New Testament scholar Susan Grove Eastman points out in Paul and the Person, “the self is never on its own but always socially and cosmically constructed in relationship to external realities that operate internally as well.” Con­sequently, sin is not “a decision made by self-determining individuals, but rather a socially mediated power greater than human beings yet operative through human thoughts, words, and deeds.”