Genesis 2:7-9,3:1-7, The Creation, and the sin of our first parents
Romans 5:12-19, However
great the number of sins committed,
grace was even greater
Matthew 4:1-11 The temptation in the wilderness
The first time I heard the phrase ’elephant
in the room’ I couldn’t think what the speaker was talking about.
An actual elephant? In the room?
Of course, I then twigged that there was
no physical elephant in the room, but this was a metaphor for something that everyone
was thinking about but that no one wanted, or dared, to talk about.
There is an elephant in the Church.
This elephant thrives on not being
identified or called out; thrives on being downplayed and not taken seriously.
This elephant loves hiding away in the
shadows, in fact this elephant loves the dark recesses of the world and of the
The elephant in the Church is Satan, the
The devil is a topic that practically no
one in the Church wants, or dares, to talk about… and that’s just how he likes
Yet the reality of evil is a major theme
of the Scriptures, and the Devil is well and truly named, not just as evil in
general, but the embodiment or personification of it.
There may be an elephant in the room, an
elephant in the Church, but there is no elephant in the Bible, quite the
contrary, as we see in today’s readings, Satan is exposed for who he is.
Satan, in the form of the serpent in
Genesis and then, in person, before Jesus in the Gospel, figures front and
centre in our readings, which is just where he hates to be: for when exposed to
the light and challenged by the truth, his power begins to melt away.
So why is the devil, Satan, so often unspoken
in the Church and by reasonable Christians?
Perhaps we are all too aware of the way
in which wicked and manipulative people have used the devil as a proxy for
their own cruel and abusive behaviour: mistaking the sinner for the sin, or
attributing motives and personality, particularly mental health, to satanic
Perhaps we just find talk of the devil
all just a bit too weird or a bit too medieval, from a time when, if something
bad happened, they just said it was the work of the devil, because in those
days they didn’t know about modern medicine or therapy.
Perhaps the talk of evil in the world,
personified in the devil, is just too painful or too close to home for us.
How do we talk about the devil mindful
of some of the brutality of the last century and, frankly, the last year?
When we can name Hitler, Stalin, Pol
Pot, Assad, Putin, or Fred and Rose West, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, Ghislaine
Maxwell and Jeffrey Epstein, do we need to talk about the devil?
Perhaps the language of the devil, the
name Satan, is redundant when we hear those names.
Yet the Gospel talks about the devil,
about Satan, because giving a personal name heightens the impact of the reality
of evil and wickedness.
When we talk about evil only in general
or abstract terms, the danger is we diminish it and it becomes like the
elephant in the room whose name and presence is never mentioned.
So, the question cannot be ‘shall we
stop talking about the devil?’, but, rather, ‘how do we talk about the devil
and remain faithful to the Gospel witness?’
In the Gospels Satan, whose name means ‘adversary’
or ‘the one who is against us’, is the one who actively distracts us from God
and what is good for us.
He tries to distract Jesus from God by working
through a hierarchy of human needs.
Satan starts to tempt Jesus by
addressing Jesus’ need to eat: ‘turn the stones of the wilderness into bread,
go on, you know you can, you know you want to’. Jesus refuses, for he is the
bread of life.
Satan tries a spiritual angle and sows
doubt: ‘if you trust in God then he’ll catch you even if you leap from the top
of the Temple’. Jesus refuses, for God is not to be tested like that.
Satan tries the seduction of power: ‘you
can have all this, if you just worship me: it’s an easy, a hassle-free way to
wish fulfilment’. Jesus refuses and is clear eyed about where worship and adoration
is due, and that is always to God.
The same seductive whispers are around
us, as they were for Eve, who, let’s face it could be you or could be me, ‘Go
on’, the serpent whispers to Eve, ‘just eat that fruit, it’s hardly bad is it?’.
Eve, of course, didn’t refuse Satan, and
nor did Adam and they hid themselves from God.
Jesus Christ, the New Adam, comes to restore
our relationship with the Father, and Mary, the New Eve, says ‘yes’ to God’s
call: be it unto me according to thy word’.
St Paul reflects on Jesus’ obedience, as
he tells us that humble obedience, active listening to God in Christ, is the
route to righteousness.
There are moments at home, at work, at
play, in life where we have to decide and resolve to follow the path of Jesus
Christ the way, the truth and the life, facing down the seductive whispers and small
temptations that, unaddressed, draw us further from God.
Lent is a time of grace to work particularly
hard on that; in saying yes to God and turning from evil.
When Satan is no longer an elephant in
the room, in our lives, in our Church, then as children of the light we find that
the powers of darkness are driven away and we are free to have a clear-sighted
vision of the source of life and light and truth who frees us to love, and our
hearts and minds turn to the Living God: to whom be all majesty, might,
dominion and power, now and through the ages of ages. Amen.