Updated: Jul 22, 2020
Today's Mass readings can be found: [HERE]
Today, we’re reminded that evil doesn’t actually exist. While we use that term, the reality is that evil doesn’t exist. Rather, evil is the lack of existence. What do I mean?
Think of the term, coldness. Coldness isn’t some thing. It’s the lack of something. It’s the lack of heat. Heat is something. It’s energy; we can measure it objectively. It’s like darkness. Darkness isn’t anything real. It’s how we describe the absence of light. Light is something. We can measure it objectively.
Similarly, evil isn’t anything; it’s how we describe the absence of goodness. God created the heavens and the earth and all creatures to be good. Even Satan (the accuser) was once Lucifer (the Lightbringer). And all of creation belongs to the Lord.
That’s clear from our parable today. The enemy from our parable isn’t a competitor. He doesn’t have a field of his own. He’s not a rival that sells different produce. He cannot create. He cannot plant his own harvest. All he can do is invade someone else’s field; and try to undermine that person’s work. And the enemy only comes at night, while hidden in darkness. He doesn’t dare to confront the master in the light of day.
That’s the essence of evil; it’s the corruption of the good. That’s a healthy reminder that any sin within us is merely a corruption of a good. For example, I’m called to love. But when that love is corrupted, it becomes lust. I’m called to rest. But when that rest is corrupted, it becomes sloth and laziness. I’m called to enjoy food and allow it to nourish me. But when that’s corrupted, it becomes gluttony.
As an aside, I think of the movie Moana. The “evil” character in the film is Te Kā; but before the end of the film, we discover that she is actually Te Fiti, the good goddess who only became evil once her heart was stolen away. Te Kā was the result of the corruption of Te Fiti. Again, evil is a corruption of the good.
Evil is the work of the evil one. He tries to undermine God’s goodness by sowing disharmony in creation, because he doesn’t have a field of his own. And like the parable, it’s only at night, in the spiritual darkness of sin, that the evil one operates. He dares not confront the Lord in the light of day.
Ultimately, the devil is only a creature, like you and me; never a true rival to the Creator. There is no real duality between God and the devil. This 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 good and evil. It’s an absolute error to think that there’s any sort of symmetry, balance, or duality 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.
This reminds me of the societal evil we are sadly experiencing in our day. Violent mobs have destroyed certain expressions of our culture and history in these recent weeks.
From coast to coast, even Catholic Churches have been burned down and vandalized. Religious statues have been decapitated or destroyed. All of this with little to no news coverage. I wouldn’t be surprised if you haven’t heard about it. And this is in addition to the recent destruction of other historical buildings and monuments, the denial of history, and the “cancel” culture that continues to plague society.
Like the enemy in our parable, anarchists don’t have a field of their own. They cannot create; they cannot build; they cannot nurture and sustain life. All they can do is destroy and sow discord in our communities and streets.
Like the enemy who dares not confront the master in the light of day, rioters don’t engage in civil discourse. They prefer the darkened intellect that irrationally lashes out; that hysterically shouts down necessary discourse. Like weeds, they live selfishly according to their base instincts, in disharmony with the rest of the field.
But we shouldn’t lose heart, and we shouldn’t respond with violence; that’s our parable’s second lesson.
In our parable, the servants quickly notice the presence of weeds in the master’s field. And their initial instinct is to rush in and pull them out. Their impulsive desires may be well-intentioned, but they come from a certain ignorance of how things grow together in a field. They don’t realize how closely entwined roots can become between wheat and weeds. That impulse to purify at all costs reveals a certain ignorance of the essential, which is life and its growth.
The master is different. He reacts with prudence and patience in the face of evil. “No,” he says to the servants, “if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest.”
While the fanatical servants want to destroy in the name of purification; the Lord wants to preserve, in the name of life. He believes in the power of the wheat to thrive and grow; and he believes that it’s stronger than the weeds’ power to choke and kill. And so, the master allows both the wheat and the weeds to reach their full maturity, until the harvest at the end of the season. The master sees beyond the immediate crisis and looks towards the harvest, which will certainly come later.
Similarly, in our own day, we continue to experience, from time to time, crises which tempts us toward action, sometimes prematurely. Our own perception of evil can trigger within us a reckless compulsion to purge our world too soon, according to our own timing, and according to our own notions of purity and impurity.
Like the servants who wanted to immediately separate the weeds from the wheat, we might have that same impulse regarding our society and our relationships. As if on crusade, we might be tempted to take purgation—and ultimately God’s judgment—into our own hands.
But we are called to be like the master, who believes in the wheat, and continues to nourish its growth. Don’t like the riots? Don’t like the destruction of the Church and society? Nobody likes weeds. But they’re just weeds…. They will flourish for a time, but in the end they’ll fail.
We’re called to believe in the wheat, and to do what we can to nourish their growth. So what can I do to sustain the wheat? How can I build? How can I volunteer more? How can I support the institutions that I do believe in? That’s how we focus on the wheat.
There will be the time of harvest at the end of the age; there will be the time of judgment at the resurrection of the dead. But judgment belongs to the Lord, and that time will come at a day and hour only he knows. Until then, we are called to be patient and to persevere despite the presence of weeds. The Lord believes in our power to thrive and grow, despite so much imperfection, disharmony, and sabotage in the world. His faith is us cannot be in vain.