We don’t need to be following the news for very long without coming to the recognition that evil exists. We think of the atrocities of war; of the moral dysfunctionality of our own society. However, of course, evil not only exists in the situations of notoriety that occur in the world. We also know that evil exists in ourselves, even if in more subtle ways: when we do not treat others as their dignity deserves; when we use others for our own purposes; when we forget the accountability that is placed on each of us to live with integrity and truthfulness. Perhaps when we focus on our own failings, we can tend to underestimate the presence and activity of evil. Evil, though, is a genuine force that we can never afford to underestimate. We can never afford not to take evil seriously.
And further, evil co-exists with all that is good about the world and ourselves. We live in a world that is truly blessed and which is truly cursed, a world that is both beautiful and ugly, a world that is full of promise and full of disorder, a world of grace and a world of sin. We live in a time of enormous disruption and also one marked by opportunity and creativity. We cannot escape this fundamental paradox at the heart of our existence.
And it is about this paradox that Jesus alludes in the gospel today. But in the parable of the field of wheat and darnel growing together Jesus is intimating that it is only in the negotiation of this paradox that we discover the Kingdom of God.
Good and evil co-exist, and they will always do so. If we thought otherwise, we would be in a bad state of conscience after 2000 years of Christianity. Is there any less evil in the world than there was 2000 years ago? I doubt it. Does that mean that the message of Jesus has failed? Truth comes about in our world, and in our lives, however, not when one part triumphs over the other but when one part fully faces the other. Often, we can think that the opposites and contradictions in our life have to be eradicated. But we must respond to a situation of paradox quite different than we do to a problem. A problem must be solved. A paradox, however, must be attended. We have to wait for a paradox to reveal something new as two things that appear in opposition are held in tension.
And this is especially important in our encounter with good and evil. We want what is good; we wish to overcome evil. However, the important consideration is that evil can never be confronted by seeking to overpower it by its own logic. This only exacerbates evil. No, the only way forward through evil is to side-step its logic completely. We disarm it by presenting an entirely alternate logic. We diffuse evil only by taking away its oxygen which breathes on the seduction of power, of competition and domination.
Saint Teresa of Calcutta knew this. Let’s recall her famous words:
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered; Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies; Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God; It was never between you and them anyway.
Mother Teresa was speaking here of thinking in an entirely different way to what is expected. Evil expects us to think a certain way. Goodness thinks entirely differently.
In the end, the Kingdom of God is not an escape from evil; it is not a defense against the presence of evil which is part of our human condition and will be with us until the end. It is a confrontation with evil. It is honest about evil, about darkness and about all the negative forces in ourselves and our life. Yet, at the same time it offers us another side to the story. That other half of the story is the life of Jesus, who is God, who takes evil upon himself in his crucifixion and redeems it. In his memory, we do the same at every Eucharist: the great ritual in which we recognize the evil in us, and in our world, and allow it to be transformed by the story and action of love which is God’s own self.
Our task is to keep the two halves of the story always together. If we keep only the half of God’s love then our religion might become mere sentimentality and lose the energetic, vivifying, healing and transforming power that truly belongs to it. If we focus only on the half of evil and darkness then that half would simply generate itself more and more in random violence around us and we would become simply hapless victims to the darkness around us.
We are here today because we do know that there is something that holds everything together both in the world and in our own personal ambiguity: a Word – a word that both creates and saves. The Word is Jesus. Let us keep our gaze on him, yes even in the face of our ambiguities and contradictions, as we wrestle with the presence of both good and evil in our life, and in our world. For he is Lord of all our experience.
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