Today’s readings make clear the presence of evil in the world, and also makes clear that the antidote, the answer to evil is knowing Jesus Christ who overcame evil to save us. How humbling and how hopeful is that truth.
The reality of evil is noted in the first pages of Sacred Scripture as the reading from Genesis makes clear. God created the world and found that it was good. But then Adam and Eve were tempted by the evil one and gave into that temptation. When called to account Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the snake. If the snake could have spoken it would have blamed a chipmunk or something else. That is the nature of being called to account. Some of us are old enough to remember the comedian Flip Wilson who made an ongoing joke that the “the devil made me do it.” It is not a joke. The devil tempts, whether we give in is our free choice.
In the gospel reading Jesus is accused of being an agent of evil, his accusers named him a disciple of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Those who made this accusation viewed Jesus as a threat even though he healed, forgave and offered new life. They were rejecting what is good out of jealousy or fear for their personal power. That is the work of the evil one as well.
Evil comes in many forms; since Adam we are all subject to its influence. Yet Christ through his church teaches us that evil need not control us nor can evil impulses suppress human freedom and responsibility without cooperation. We with Christ by our side can make choices for good even under heavy pressures.
Those pressures or temptations are part of all our lives in one form or another. We can with faith in Jesus Christ and supported by one another in the Church reject them. Our response to difficult circumstances they bring can be rebellion, anger, and turning away from God. That makes matters worse. Our response can be resignation, accepting whatever comes along with a sigh, woe is me. That wastes the gift of life and freedom God the Creator has blessed upon us. Or our response can be to live our lives with trust and hope that there is a sense to it all and that by faith we can be strengthened to steel ourselves through those dark times in our lives.
God’s solution to the problem of evil is his son, Jesus Christ. The Father with love sent his son to offer example and to die for us and to overcome and defeat the power of evil in the world. Someone wrote in somewhat if an in artful way: “We do not worship an absentee landlord who ignores his slum. We worship a garbage man God who came down into our worst garbage to clean it up.” The cross is God’s gift as a practical antidote to evil. Our part is to repent, to believe in Him, and to work with Him to fight evil by extending his power of love to others who hurt us and even to ourselves when we have fallen. That is the power of confession as well. To the extent we do not repent though knowing we have sinned, do not believe in Him though we know of his presence, do not fight evil with love, we will continue to not only make bad choices but live sad and unhealthy lives.
Jesus experienced the greatest evils. God, who is perfect, humbled himself to become one with us, out of love for us. Yet he was hated, blasphemed, beaten and killed, or so they thought. Yet it was God’s plan to free us from evil by the sacrifice of his only son. The greatest injustice of all time resulted in the salvation of all if we accept it.
In honesty though it is hard to resist or not be worn down by all the suffering and heaviness in the world and in each of our lives especially when experiencing those things that we cannot control such as accidents, natural disasters, debilitating sickness and loss of loved ones. We may well ask “why do bad things happen to good people” or “why do good things, at least in the worldly sense, happen bad people.” But who are we to determine who is good or bad. None of us know enough about one another to be judges; we ought to leave judgment to God. That does not mean that consequences to sin ought not be attended in justice. Yet Jesus said no one is good except God. When a class of youngsters was asked if good people were gold and bad people were purple, what color you would be, one young lady responded that “I would be streaky.”
The fact is though that it is often through the tough times that we grow in self-understanding, in humility and in recognizing that we cannot not go it alone, that we need God. It is often in tough times that love is revealed and reconciliation is achieved.
Jesus said, “whoever does the will of God is my brother, sister and mother”. Mary is the humbling example of one who did the will of God both as mother of Jesus and as his faithful disciple. “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as God says.” When that is our intention and we live it, evil will not overwhelm us. To be a faithful members of God’s family will result in having the courage to live through the difficult and often unexplainable times knowing that ultimately and eternally, good things happen to God’s people.
In World War II Private Joseph Schultz was a young German soldier on patrol in what was then Yugoslavia. One day his commanding office called out his name along with seven others. They thought they were going on a routine patrol. As they came to the peak of a hill, not knowing their mission, they saw eight people, five men and three women lined up. The eight soldiers were ordered to line up as well and raise their rifles ready to shoot upon orders. Suddenly there was the sound of a rifle butt hitting the ground. Startled, everyone looked and saw Private Schultz walking toward the eight targets. His sergeant ordered him to come back. Instead he walked to and joined hands with them. After a pause the sergeant yelled ‘fire”. Private Schultz died in solidarity with the eight. On his body was found a note with the words of St. Paul, “Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices in the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” (Bausch)
God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son to help us overcome evil and to encourage us to rejoice in the truth even unto death. Give Praise to the Lord.