One of the great questions found in literature, philosophy, and in the history of ideas is the fact that we are a mixture of good and evil, both in our own personal lives and in our culture with its array of institutions. The fundamental question is this: Why is there evil? Why are there weeds in the garden of our world and all that it produces? Many thinkers give us many answers, the best to my way of thinking, deal with another question: Why are we free to choose? Why didn’t God create a world in which we would always choose what it decent, right, and good?
Freedom of choice – that’s the problem, isn’t it? Love isn’t love unless it is the result of choices, choices that are open to a Yes answer and a No answer. Love has value because it is a positive decision, not a negative.
And so we live in a strange world, don’t we? So many people begin things with good intentions, wonderful visions, and really want to make things better, both in their own lives and in the lives of others. Many revolutionaries really wanted to make the lives of their countrymen better. We went to war in Vietnam with good intentions. Federal bailouts were supposed to reduce our unemployment rate. But, as in so many great efforts, things can eventually go wrong.
The same is true in our own personal lives. People fall in love and get married with nothing but the best of intentions, with high hopes, with hearts filled with love, and with wonderful visions. Then, somewhere along the line, things turn sour.
Life is mixture of good and evil. We are imperfect people living in an imperfect world. There’s much in our nation that is both good and bad. Our governmental officials are both good and bad. There’s much in our Church that is good, and there are some bad things in it too. If we’re honest, we see that there is both good and bad in us individually and collectively. Everywhere we look we find this strange mixture of what’s right and what’s wrong.
The world of great literature and the world of great art try to help us deal with this mixture of good and evil. The famous Star Wars movie series presents good people who, for some mysterious reason, go over to the Dark Side. The authors and producers of Star Wars don’t give us an explanation of why this happens, they give us only the epic struggle of good overcoming evil. The world’s great writers, novelists and poets give us no ultimate answer to the problem of evil’s origins; the only thing they can do is help us deal with the problem of evil, not solve it.
The Bible tells us that Lucifer was one of the greatest of all God’s angels. His name, Lucifer, means “Light Bearer.” He was one of highest of God’s creatures; he bore God’s own light. And yet… for some reason he became the Prince of Darkness. The reason? Lucifer put his will before God’s will. He refused to obey God. He opted to go his own way. He defied God. The mystery is: Why did he do that?
As followers of Jesus Christ, what do we do with the problem of evil? That’s the question raised in today’s readings. Answering the question is a big problem for all of us. Just what do we do when it comes to ridding ourselves and our world of evil? Sacred Scripture suggests that we deal with evil as God deals with it, with patience and forbearance. Evil will eventually reveal itself and evil will eventually suffer the consequences it brings down upon itself. Sin brings with it its own suffering and punishment. God, however, is not quick to render final judgments upon us. In His infinite patience and loving mercy God gives us plenty of time to make multiple decisions to choose what is decent, right, and good. In a very real sense God doesn’t have to condemn us; we do a good job in condemning ourselves. That is perhaps why God is both just and merciful at the same time.
There are a couple of interesting points about the parable of Jesus found in St. Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 13: 24-43). One is that when He was asked where the weeds came from Jesus replied: “An enemy has done this.” He doesn’t tell us why God has enemies; He simply states it as a fact. He is a realist, not a dreamy eyed idealist. To take a realistic view of life we simply must begin with the facts – evil exists and it comes from people who have chosen to defy God. It may not make any sense to us, but we simply must take it as a fact of life. People, of their own free will, choose to defy God and do things quite apart from Him. In the world of human choices, things are not as they ought to be, things are quite apart from what God intended them to be. The price of human freedom of choice is terribly costly, not only to us, but to God. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had to pay that price.
Why, we ask, doesn’t God simply pull up all of evil’s weeds? Why doesn’t God, with fire and brimstone, simply blast evil off the face of the earth? Well, that’s a lot easier said than done. Suppose God did, what would happen? What would happen to each one of us? Aren’t we all a mixture of good and evil? Wouldn’t we get caught up on their firestorm of evil’s destruction?
Which brings me to the second point, namely the fact that so very often what is evil appears to be good, and what is good appears to be evil. We can’t make the sorting, only God can.
In today’s parable Jesus speaks of the weeds are darnel. Now at the beginning of the growing process darnel looks just like wheat. It’s only as harvest time approaches that the difference between the two becomes apparent. We know that to be true, don’t we, when it comes to the great enterprises we begin. It’s only after the passage of time that we find out what’s really good and what’s really bad in our marriages. It was only after communism matured that we came to know just how evil it was. And the same principle applies in so many areas of our lives. Everything has something wrong within it. We certainly know that’s true in our own Church, in our nation, in our world, and in our own personal lives.
There are no “quick-fix” and easy solutions. Patience and forbearance are necessary, and to have patience and forbearance one must have faith. This is what Jesus is calling us to have – faith in His heavenly Father’s plan, faith in His heavenly Father’s ultimate ways of dealing with us and with our world. We have to believe in God’s goodness and believe in His love for all that is good in our world.
Isn’t that the faith Jesus had when we suffered His agony in the Garden of Gethsemani and as He hung dying on the cross? The Evil One tempted Him to despair, tempted Him to go over to the Dark Side. But Jesus remained steadfast, confident that in the end, at harvest time, His Father in heaven would harvest the good wheat and burn the darnel. Dying, Jesus handed over His fate to His Father in heaven.
Yes, it is a strange world we live in. But at the same time it is a beautiful world, a beautiful world filled with beautiful, wonderful, and even heroic people. The miracle is that goodness and love have survived evil’s onslaught.
What is the vision in which you live? Do you really have faith in your heavenly Father, in the ultimate triumph of good over evil, and in the power of love? Today, once again, Jesus invites you to share in His vision, in His hope, and in His faith that in the end God our Father will bring good out of evil.