[23 July 2017] Wis 12:13, 16-19 • Ps 86 • Rom 8:26-27 • Mt 13:24-43 or 13:24-30
The problem of evil
A few days before Holy Week a few years back, a young girl who was working her way to college in one of the houses of a congregation of sisters in the city came and asked me if I could take her brother in as a working student so he could also go to college. I told her that I did not need one at that time but when I did, I would call her.
In the evening of Holy Wednesday I called her up since one of my boys asked to leave for personal reasons. I asked her to tell her brother to see me. She answered that he was in their hometown and she would go there in the morning of Holy Saturday and return with him on Easter Sunday.
Easter Sunday came and went but they did not show up. Neither did they on Monday. That night, a priest told me that while at the sisters’ Easter party, he was told that the girl I sent to fetch her brother, her mother and another passenger were killed after they attended the early evening Easter Virgil Liturgy of Holy Saturday. The tricycle they were riding on was fired upon by armed men. The crime was reported in the local and national media. But it was never solved.
When things like this happen to innocent people, we sometimes wonder what God is doing. We even ask: How can an all loving and all good God allow such an evil to happen?
The Parable of the Weeds among the Wheat (Mt 13:24-43) may give us an answer. In its initial growth, the weed is hard to distinguish from wheat. Once it is recognized, its roots had already intertwined with those of the wheat. The tenants proposed to the owner that they pull up the weeds. But at that early stage, to pull them up would risk uprooting the wheat too. So the owner told them, Let them grow together until harvest.
What in effect Jesus is teaching us is that when God, personified by the farm owner, allows the weeds and the wheat to grow together, he is not saying that he cannot do anything about evil. Rather, he wants both the wheat and the weeds—the good and the bad—to grow side by side so that the growth of the wheat will not be affected. The separation will come at harvest time, at judgment time.
The coexistence of bad and good in the world is a reality we have to live with. Good and bad people are with us in church, in our workplaces and even at home. And this reveals to us the reason why Jesus came: not as Judge but as Savior. Sure, he will be our Judge, too, but later, at the Last Judgment. Meanwhile, he continues to remain ever patient and forbearing, lovingly cajoling us to follow the straight and narrow path so that we will not have ourselves condemned to eternal damnation.
Jesus was never selective of people he dealt with. In fact, the Pharisees openly criticized him for associating with crooks, prostitutes, tax collectors, etc.,—“sinners” in the Pharisees’ vocabulary. He also mixed with children and the poor—society’s “little ones.” For he knew that all communities of people are a mixture of the good and the bad, the crook and the straight. In the end, it is Jesus who was weeded out by the bad guys and thrown into the killing fields. This is the scandal of God’s patience and forbearance with us.
Neither did Jesus come to cure the healthy but the sick. Nor did he condemn anyone to death. In fact, in the only instance in which he was confronted with affirming the death of a person—the woman caught in adultery who according to the law must be stoned to death—all he said was, Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her (Jn 8:7). No, Jesus did not come to judge but to save. And in this regard, he gives every person the chance to avail of his saving grace and thus reform himself. The judgment only comes when our time runs out, after death.
The parable also tells us that in the same field on which the sower sows are also found the seeds of the weed. In other words, the evil that we speak out against and want to eradicate in others also thrives in us—in our hearts. We find this hard to accept since we often think that we are the good guys and others, the bad guys. But all we have to do is to look deep into our hearts to discover how wrong we are. In our hearts, as in the hearts of others, we also find anger, pride, revenge, lust and what have you.
The difference between the good and the bad does not consist in the fact that the good have no weaknesses at all or do not commit sins. Rather, the good recognize their shortcomings and sins and work hard to slowly overcome them. For his part, God continually sends them the grace to succeed in their efforts.
If we all fight the evil inside us, then with God’s help, good deeds will come out from within us. Then there will be less evil in the world, less evil done by people to one another.
VERDANT PASTURES: Reflections on the Sunday Readings
Fr. Alfonso E. Carino, OMI
St. Pauls, 7708 St. Paul Road, San Antonio Villlage, 1203 Makati City, Philippines