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First Sunday in Lent

The Venerable Archdeacon Solomon Ekiyor of Nigeria spoke movingly to us Sunday about his family’s experiences in Ukraine where he had been working as a mission- planter and his wife as a medical doctor. They were able to escape to Budapest, where they remain for the time. Meanwhile, Father Frank offers this quick meditation on today’s Scripture readings... The First Sunday in Lent 6 March 2022 Deuteronomy 26:1-11 Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 Romans 10:8b-13 Luke 4:1-13 If God is all-good and all-loving, why is there evil in the world? does God allow for suffering in our world? Or, as one scholar has phrased it: Why do bad things happen to good people? How is it possible that the Holocaust and murder of millions of Jews and others deemed undesirable could have happened right here in cultivated Europe – and less than a hundred years ago? How can one nation go to war against another for no reason right here in Central Europe, right in the middle of the twenty-first century. How can beloved members of our families and communities be taken from us in mid- life by a virus pandemic no one remotely anticipated or expected? Where is God in all this? Sages and saints have struggled with these issues and questions from time immemorial. Theologians call it the question of theodicy. But having a fancy theological term for something is not an explanation in itself. And, the problem of theodicy, the issue of suffering in the world, remains forever one of the thorniest questions faced by any Christian, not just theologians and scholars. There are of course explanations. Some make more sense than others. Some suggest for instance that we can never fully understand the mind and will of God. And, so it makes little sense to try to do so. We ought to simply accept things as they are. Another popular explanation involves our free will. According to this In other words, why

explanation, God in his love has given humankind arguably the greatest of all gifts, free will, knowing that in some instances humankind will choose sin and evil over the good and loving and will thus bring suffering into the world. Other thinkers suggest that, contrary to accepted wisdom, God is actually not all powerful after all and so cannot prevent evil from happening. Ultimately, in spite of explanations put forward by theologians and saints, there is really no completely adequate understanding of the problem of evil and suffering. But as one thoughtful theologian has rightly observed, in spite of all we know of this truth or reality, parents continue to bring children into the world; understanding full well that at some point their children too will suffer -- and ultimately die. Perhaps parents know instinctively what the theologians too easily forget: That there is always more good in this world and in human life than bad; more hope than despair. Our Lenten reflections begin this morning in a sense with sin and temptation, namely, the Temptation of Jesus in the Desert, an example of theodicy if ever there was one. You know the story well. Jesus has been fasting and praying for forty days in the wilderness. He is hungry – probably dirty too and bone-tired – in need of a hot shower and a good long rest. The Evil One thus comes at arguably his moment of greatest vulnerability, offering what all of us ultimately want -- physical well-being, security, and getting our own way. In return, he asks only to be worshipped. What could be the harm in that? Indeed, our Lord faces a short list of temptations – three to be exact. But they are, it seems to me, emblematic of all temptation and sin: The desire to satisfy all one’s inner cravings and appetites; the desire to lord it over others, which seems to be root of all war; and ultimately the desire to dominate even God. From infancy onwards, we all want our own way after all. Whether we admit it or not, at some level we would all like to have others do our every bidding. It may come as a surprise to know that -- at least according to most scholars -- the devil or Satan as he is sometimes called in Scripture is a relative late-comer, at least in the form in which we find him in today’s text. He makes his first appearances, in this familiar form, in Hebrew literature only a couple hundred years before Christ. Temptation of course has been around since long before that, quite literally forever. We find it in the very first chapters of Genesis as Eve and, along with her, Adam are tempted by the Serpent -- and sin. The word used for the devil in many places in Scripture – including our passage today from Luke – is in the original Greek of the text, diabolos, a word from which we derive our English word diabolical. Etymologically and most literally, it means something thrown across our path. One supposes it could originally have meant for instance something as simple as a ball tossed across a field. But it came to mean the devil because – apparently to the Greek way of thinking -- it is the devil who throws

temptations across our path and spiritual field-of-vision – distractions in other words which lure us away from the true way. Distractions – very alluring ones at that -- are what our Lord is surely faced with in our Gospel narrative. The devil offers the first-century equivalent of swanky mid- Manhattan office tower penthouses, luxurious seaside golf resorts, and political power and hegemony. Jesus of course is having none of it. He sees through the diabolical glitter and empty promises and rejects the devil’s propositions and temptations outright. The theology of theodicy teaches us that evil – and suffering – are our constant human companions – just as they make their appearance in the life of our Lord. It reminds us too that we do not – cannot – always understand the will of God. Still, our Lord shows us that we need not acquiesce in temptation and evil-doing. They can be overcome. But like our Lord, we must be ever-vigilant. Our free will may be freely given us. But it is not for all that easy to exercise for the right. After all, as Luke’s Gospel ominously reminds us, the devil is ever-present – seeking always yet another “opportune time.” Such as right now... Lent is given to us, among other reasons, to help us once again focus our attention on essentials – on what is truly important. And, what is truly important is not any of the things and allurements strewn across our path, from fancy electronic devices to the empty promises of political leaders and oligarchs who should know better. Lent rather is a time to return, with our Lord, to the desert; and from the desert and wilderness back to Paradise itself. Just as our Lord goes from the wasteland of desert and devil to mission and ministry among the people of ancient Israel, so must we now spread the Good News of God’s Kingdom in our world today. The Revd Dr Frank Hegedűs

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