Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Confessions: What is Good and what is Evil?

The text for Tuesday of Holy Week:
John 12:20-36

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks.

12:21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, "Sir, we wish to see Jesus."

12:22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus.

12:23 Jesus answered them, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

12:24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

12:25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

12:26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

12:27 "Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say--' Father, save me from this hour'? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

12:28 Father, glorify your name." Then a voice came from heaven, "I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again."

12:29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, "An angel has spoken to him."

12:30 Jesus answered, "This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.

12:32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself."

12:33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

12:34 The crowd answered him, "We have heard from the law that the Messiah remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?"

12:35 Jesus said to them, "The light is with you for a little longer. Walk while you have the light, so that the darkness may not overtake you. If you walk in the darkness, you do not know where you are going.

12:36 While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light." After Jesus had said this, he departed and hid from them.

One of the questions I remember puzzling over as a teenager was this: "if Jesus came to earth to die to save humans from their sins, how come everyone is so mad at Judas?"

After all, Judas was only the vehicle for this sacrificial act by Jesus. He was doing his job. It was God's Will that Jesus die on the cross and that he be betrayed by a friend. According to most Christian doctrine, God wanted this to happen and arranged it; and Jesus bought into it, though he wasn't happy about it. He also had to obey God's will.

Another question that bothered me: "Why is Jesus so stuck on himself? For that matter, why is God so stuck on Himself? Why is all this glorifying required if God/Jesus is the main act? Does God have an ego?" (I'd just taken Psych 101)

It began to occur to me that the line between Good and Evil is often murky, that what is Good for one entity is Evil for another.

Good: that Jesus loved humankind and wanted to do something to save them.
Evil: that Judas was shanghaied into colluding with Good by doing something Evil.

Good: that Saddam Hussein was overthrown.
Evil: that thousands of Iraqis lost their lives in the process, as well as Americans.

Good: that beautiful Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden.
Evil: that Adam and Eve wanted to know the difference between Good and Evil and ate of the tree's fruit.

It all reminds me of that old adage from Physics class: for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction, if I've got it right. Physics was not my strong suit.

And Evil often turns out to have Good consequences.

Evil: that I had a hard time with Physics.
Good: that I turned to writing and speaking instead of science as a profession.

Evil: that a human being is addicted to narcotics and is forced into treatment.
Good: that the human being hits bottom and finds strength after coping with this crisis.

Evil: that a girl is pregnant out of wedlock by an irresponsible male.
Good: that the girl often uses the pregnancy to grow up, learn hard lessons, and deal with the life of the child in a life-enhancing way.

In today's reading from John, Jesus is clear that Good and Evil are intertwined, that the grain of wheat must die before it can produce fruit, that it is necessary to give up one's control of life in order to find more abundant life, a life that comes from within, not from outside.

In our world, this is hard to admit. The economy is in the cellar, the war goes on, oppression continues to blight people's lives, yet these are all external conditions. If we are to take Jesus' message seriously, we need to focus on our inner life, find the inner light, use the inner light, and in so doing, we will change the outer world.


Terri Dennehy Pahucki said...

I've always had problems with the words "good" and "evil". But recently I read that the Hebrew words for good and evil (tob and ra) go beyond the meaning of moral discord, to also mean "full of joy" and "full of pain". And they are as a pair, inseparable. This has helped me to make sense of the language more, as it widens the meaning.

I like your reminder to focus on the light within. Lots to ponder here....

ms. kitty said...

Thanks, Terri, for your comment. The Hebrew definitions add something important to the concepts of good and evil. Thanks.

Comrade Kevin said...

The Kingdom of God is within you.