Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time Reflection
We are pointing our finger the wrong way! Our inability to distinguish between wickedness and evil both in the individual and corporate sin causes much division, intolerance, hurt and suffering.
Most of us can attest to the burden that we feel in relation to our personal sin; the weight of guilt and remorse that so often leads to a deeply felt desire to repair the damage caused; to repay the debt! There certainly is a connection between sin and chaos, illusions and falsehoods and all the broken relationships that we see around us. But as much as sin is seen as stumbling block on the road towards union with God, sin is also an opportunity to see through the chaos, illusions and falsehoods and thereby come to the practice of good.
Holy Scripture contains many injunctions for us to work with God to assist our brothers and sisters to correct their view, to change their minds (metanoia) and thereby change their actions. When we however fail to see and acknowledge God as the instrument of transformation and freedom, we take on ourselves the role of judge that so often ascribes to others wicked intentions and evil deeds. Jesus warns us, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.”
The trouble here is that once we have taken that first step into self-righteousness, we come to see our actions as good and Godly and therefore “condemnation, just like death, is for other people, not for us”. This is not only a great danger for our spiritual journey, but leads us to create injunctions, slogans and idioms that may have the sound and taste of Holy Scripture, but bitterly resonate against the teachings of Jesus.
It is with such slogans that we take on the mantle of purity and holiness to fight against that perceived evil that would destroy us and our way of life. “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing” was quoted by the United States president John F Kennedy in a speech in 1961 based on the writing of John Stuart Mill, who said in 1867: “Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.” No biblical roots here I’m afraid.
The World the Flesh and the Devil
How Do we Fight Evil? Is evil even a real thing, with substance and power? Or is it no more than the absence of truth, a vacuum of reality, darkness, a negation of light as proposed by many of the early church fathers? If evil has the substance of reality, then how could God have allowed it in Gods’ world? But if evil is only darkness, how is it possible for darkness to defy light? Traditional Catholic moral teaching states that the sources of evil are the world, the flesh, and the devil. This model simply illustrates the three sources of evil and thus violence; the world at the bottom of the spiral, the flesh in the middle, and the devil at the top. If evil and institutionalised violence go unrecognised at the first level, the second and third are inevitable. This is perhaps the blame game that started in the Garden of Eden as Eve blames the serpent, “the devil made me do it”, and as Adam first blames Eve and then turns his finger towards God, “it is the fault the woman that YOU gave me”.
But perhaps evil is too close to us to see clearly; too painful to place a label upon. We feel that we are callously justifying the horrors that have befallen good people. Perhaps we are rationalising God, and ourselves, off the hook. But, on the other hand, without any grasp of what evil is, how can we be expected to fight against it?
In Scripture the metaphor for evil is darkness. No more than the absence of truth. A void of reality. Like darkness, Evil has no power of its own. Left to its own devices, evil must always devour itself. From where, then, does evil derive the power to cause so much pain and suffering in the world? As we glance through the bloody pages of history and come face-to-face with the abyss, we come to the uncomfortable acknowledgement that evil derives its power to cause pain and suffering from us, and most especially from our very fear of that evil.
Through Fear We Let in Evil
We may confidently declare that in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus, death and evil are overcome. We may pray every day that God deliver us from evil yet, with every spoonful of worry, anxiety and fear we foster it; with every glance of trepidation, every concession we make from our lives to acknowledge its threat, it grows until evil rises brazenly to attack us with our own devices.
This theme is repeated throughout Scripture. When the snake approached Eve, she wasn’t ready to give it the time of day. In her world, the snake might as well not even existed. So the snake had to say, “Is it true you’re not allowed to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” Of course the snake knew this was a lie. But this way, Eve took notice of it. The snake became someone worth answering. And therefore, empowered to create dissension and trouble.
Through our fear, evil becomes real and takes on our power. Without that power evil must devour itself and fall into nothingness, into nonbeing. Once we have found evil’s secret, we know how to deflate it. Look towards the good and magnify God’s light within us. The strategy is almost identical, whether it be the evil that sweeps the globe or within our community, or that lies in the darker recesses of our own heart, waiting to terrorize us at any chance. It is not a simple solution, because we have already nurtured structural evil and institutionalised sin to the point that it thrives and evolves each day.
On a global scale, evil is not something to fear, much less negotiate with. That only gives it more power. Stoop to conquer evil and we invariably end up in its sordid squalor. Against evil, we must march to battle on the incense of forgiveness, blessings and love.
Create More Light, More Hope
That is why it is so important today for us to create more hope and light. Even a little light pushes away a lot of darkness. For every shadow of darkness we have seen, we must produce megawatts of blinding light. Just as those possessed by evil did the wild and unreasonable, beyond that which the craziest doomsayer could have predicted, so, too, we must do kindness beyond reason.
Perhaps this is the purpose of evil, why a God who is entirely good devised evil to be in Gods’ world. Because evil forces us to reach deep inside, to find our inner strength, climbing ever higher, until reaching a brilliant, blinding light; a light that leaves no cranny for darkness to hide.
Against that light, love and blessings, evil melts in surrender, having fulfilled its purpose of being.
Jesus calls on us to fight evil with beauty; to defy darkness with infinite light, love and blessings.