16th Sunday Year A - Homily 3

Homily 3 – 2011 

England’s News of the World closed down last week.  Some of its journalists and top executives face shame and possible criminal charges.  Why did they do the unethical and unlawful things they are alleged to have done?  Because their tactics, up to now, paid off.  Their newspapers sold.  People wanted to read what they published.  An AFL player has been charged with rape.  It hit the news, not because a woman was raped, but because the perpetrator was an AFL player.  The media have written more about his behaviour off the field than they ever devoted to analysing his behaviour on the field.  Sportsmen are presented as role models, not because of their proven character traits, but simply because of their athletic abilities.  We love to make celebrities, and love even more to be scandalised by their private lives.  Who’s good?  Who’s evil?  The pot calling the kettle black! We’re all black! And even black pots and black kettles have their uses.

Today’s parable might have come at the right time.  Wheat and darnel.  Apparently, while both are still green, it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.  What might Jesus be suggesting?  Perhaps: Don’t fall for the temptation to take it upon ourselves to pass judgment on who is good and who is evil.  Leave it till the harvest.  Leave it to God.  Indeed, how would we classify ourselves?  I think that the wiser we are, the less sure we are.

I have often wondered about the story of Adam and Eve.  They were warned not to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they did, they would die.  What is so poisonous about knowing good and evil?  The tempter got at them by making them envious of God - who can tell good from evil.  You won’t die!  You’ll be like God.  You’ll know good and evil.  Their attempt to play God, their relishing the role reserved to God, their desire to know good and evil landed them in all sorts of trouble: harmony gave way to strife; respect and cooperation to domination; and murder followed in the next generation.  Judging others inevitably does that.

We can look at people’s behaviour.  We can exercise our minds to determine which behaviours are ethical and which aren’t; which contribute to the common good and which don’t.  We can work out laws to enforce or to prohibit certain behaviours.  Societies need to do these things.  

But, whereas objective behaviours can be classified as right or wrong, helpful or otherwise, we have no certainty about people’s subjective condition.  As St Paul observed in today’s Second Reading: … it is God who knows everything in our hearts.  We don’t know others’ motivations - where their behaviours come from.  We don’t know how clearly they recognise the right and the wrong.  We don’t know how free they are.  The cultures and sub-cultures they belong to, and the institutions they are part of, strongly influence people’s perception of right and wrong.  They deeply affect their freedoms.  What is regarded as virtuous in one sub-culture can be deplored in another.

Jesus constantly ran up against the pharisaical sub-culture. Good-intentioned people were blind to what in fact they were doing: They thought that they were behaving responsibly and virtuously in condemning Jesus.  They were shocked at Jesus’ readiness to share meals, and thereby align himself, with tax-collectors, prostitutes and sundry sinners before they converted.

We can’t judge who ultimately is good and who is evil.  Yet, the temptation to do so is so strong.  Leave it till the harvest.  Yet, surprisingly, even God doesn’t seem to worry too much.  God has chosen to love everyone - good and evil, to offer forgiveness and to show mercy particularly to the evil – who are the ones who need it.

Does it matter, then, whether we are good or evil, if God loves everyone regardless?  Yes, it does.  Because what we call “heaven” is relationship.  It is a relationship of love.  Relationships are two-way.  There is no relationship, no “heaven” for us, if we do not accept God’s love, allow ourselves to be swept up in it and to be carried back to God by it.  True evil is turning our backs on love.