Sunday's readings can be found: [HERE]
In our gospel today, we learn two important lessons about evil: namely, that it doesn’t exist, per se; and secondly, we glean what our general approach ought to be in the face of so-called, evil.
On that first point, a number of years ago, the film Moana came out, which you may have seen. The “evil” character in the film is named Te Kā. Spoiler alert: near the end of the film, it’s discovered that Te Kā is actually the benevolent goddess, Te Fiti, who became "evil" as a result of having her heart stolen from her. Te Kā was a corrupted version of Te Fiti.
It’s a secular movie, but that idea of evil being the corruption of the good is a belief that we hold as Christians. It’s akin to our idea of coldness. Coldness isn’t anything real. You can’t measure it. But heat is something. Heat is energy that we can measure objectively. Our idea of darkness works the same way. Darkness isn’t anything actual. Darkness is simply the lack of light. Light is something that can be measured scientifically.
Likewise, evil isn’t anything. It’s what we call the lack of goodness. God created everything to be good. Even devils were once angelic spirits. Lucifer means, “Bringer of Light”. He was once ranked among the seraphim. But he became Satan, which means the “enemy” or the “accuser,” when he freely chose to live beneath his dignity. Now he’s a shell of his former glory.
This theme is present in our gospel passage. The field belongs completely to the master of the house. The enemy doesn’t have a field of his own. He’s not a true rival who sells produce grown in a different place. All he can do is invade someone else’s field; to try to make that field less abundant. And he comes only at night while hidden in darkness. He doesn’t dare to confront the master in the light of day. His malicious aim is simply to corrupt the good field.
That’s the essence of evil: to undermine and corrupt the good. That’s the nature of every sin: lust is a corruption of love; gluttony is a corruption of the good desire for food; laziness is a corruption of the natural desire for rest; cowardice is a corruption of discretion and prudence; recklessness is a corruption of bravery; and so on.
That’s the nature of evil people. They cannot create. They cannot build. They cannot nurture or sustain life. They can only destroy, sow disharmony in relationships and communities, attack the family, undermine human nature, pervert human sexuality, and so on. Like the enemy, they prefer darkness; a darkened intellect, devoid of enlightened discourse or rational dialogue.
But the field still belongs to the Lord. God is the Creator and creation is his. Ultimately, the devil is only a creature; never a true rival to the Creator. There’s no real duality between God and the devil. It’s an absolute error to think that there’s any sort of symmetry between good and evil. Real life isn’t like Star Wars; there’s no balance between the light and the dark sides of the Force, just as there is no balance between God and the devil. The devil can only attack God indirectly, by sowing corruption; just like the enemy who sows weeds among the wheat—at night.
That’s the first lesson of our parable: evil is simply a privation of the good.
The second lesson is that we should not lose heart nor respond with violence. That’s our gospel message: extraordinarily difficult to live out in practice, but that is the ideal. That is the challenge we face every time we look upon our Lord’s example [gesturing to the Crucifix]. Whenever we look upon the Crucifix, we see the absolute triumph of good over evil. On the Cross, we see the totality of evil on display: mankind's rebellion against God; creation's desire to kill the Creator. But our eyes of faith see beyond the immediate image of death. We see the God who so loved the world that he gave his life to deliver you and me from death. This image was once used to terrify the enemies of Rome: "If you cross us, we will cross you, literally." But now this image does not fill us with terror. It inspires us. It emboldens us. We embrace it.
In our parable, the servants are quick to notice the weeds. Their instinct is to rush in and pull them out. That impulse may be well-intentioned, but it’s born from a certain inexperience of how things grow together in a field. They don’t realize how intertwined roots can become between wheat and weeds. That urge to purify at all costs reveals an ignorance of what’s essential, which is life and its growth.
The master is different. He reacts with prudence and patience in the face of evil. He denies the servants when they ask to pull the weeds. “If you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Rather, let them grow together until the harvest.”
The fanatical servants want to destroy in the name of purification. But the master wants to preserve in the name of life. He believes in the power of the wheat to thrive and grow; to overcome the weeds’ power to choke and kill. The master sees beyond the immediate crisis and looks towards the inevitable harvest. Both wheat and weeds will be allowed to reach their full maturity.
At times, we can be like the servants from our parable. Crises can occur that can tempt us toward premature action. Like the servants who wanted to immediately separate weeds from wheat, we might have that same impulse regarding society and our relationships. Our own perception of evil can trigger within us a reckless compulsion to end things. We can overly hard on ourselves and on others, overlooking the fundamental goodness that is present.
As if on crusade, we might be tempted to take purgation—and ultimately God’s judgment—into our own hands. And we can find ourselves destroying the good wheat that God has sown.
Rather, we’re called to be like the master, who believes in the wheat’s power to thrive and nourishes their growth. We’re called to believe in the goodness God has sown into our lives and to nourish that goodness: our good institutions, relationships, virtues, and so on.
Until the harvest at the end of the age—until the final judgement at the Resurrection of the Dead, we are called to be patient and to persevere despite so much imperfection, disharmony, and sabotage that has been sown in the world.