The Problem of Evil
16th Sunday Ordinary Time
July 19, 2020
One of the biggest challenges to our faith is always the question: why is there evil in the world? Why is it sometimes hard to recognize evil at first? Jesus offers a partial answer to these questions in this parable of the weeds among the wheat (Matthew 13:24-43).
In our gospel, a farmer plants good seed by day, but at night an enemy comes in and scatters weeds in his field. This tactic was so common in the ancient world that the Romans had laws forbidding it. The problem is that the “weed” that was sown, called bearded darnel, looks almost exactly like the good wheat until it actually begins to go to seed. By the time you can recognize the bad shoots, their roots have completely intertwined with the wheat, so that any attempt to pull up the weeds would ruin the good crop. The farmer’s solution is a practical one: he will let both the good and the bad grow together until the harvest. Why does he do this? For the sake of the good crop that he wants to save.
Notice that the good seed is spread by day and the evil is sown at night. Evil is not a positive good; rather, evil is the absence of good or the corruption of good. Evil is darkness. To do evil requires something good to corrupt or destroy. To break commandments, we have to have commandments; to murder, a victim must be found; to slander someone, there must be an innocent person to hurt; to destroy a building, someone had to build it first.
These weeds survive and flourish in the parable because they look so much like wheat; in other words, evil cannot express itself unless there is good to corrupt or destroy. At the end of our lives, God is going to give us whatever we have chosen. The good will go to heaven; and, finally freed from the darkness of evil inside and out, they will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Mt 13:43).” Those who wish a life without God after death, who prefer evil to good, will also be granted what they wish (this is hell—life without God). But in hell, there will be no light; no good; no victims to destroy. Those who do evil do not realize that all the good they take for granted in their lives actually comes from God! Without him, all is darkness. Heaven, by contrast, is light-filled.
God allows those who do evil to live side by side in this life with the good in the hopes that the evil-doers (the “weeds”) will repent and become Children of the Kingdom of God (the “wheat”). As long as we are alive it is not too late. How do we recognize the evil in the world and in ourselves from the good? The good will bear good fruit, while evil is ultimately poisonous, like the darnel of the parable. In the meantime, we live in a temporary situation where we are called to turn from evil but not to judge others, which is God’s job. The parable is both a warning and a comfort: God tolerates evil for the sake of the good, but only for a little while. The final ends of those who choose evil, and those who choose the good could not be more different.