For the several months following we return to the common teachings of Jesus to learn the way of living the Christian life in his Spirit. Last week we read, ‘Jesus gave them authority to go and proclaim the Good News, The Kingdom of Heaven has come near.’
It is not just the verbal proclamation of a story we learn. Whatever one does to speak of its good news, it must be ground in the life one leads. I reminded us of the warning, “I cannot hear what you say, because of what you are.”
Who we are and what we say must harmonise.
THE QUESTION OF EVIL
From the earliest years of history the religious mind has perceived of God and the opposing forces of evil. Hence the battle between good and evil has crystallized a fundamental condition of life’s journey. Jesus picks up this theme in his teaching today.
To address the question of the nature of evil is too big for this presentation. Jesus assumes that people can readily observe examples of the way of evil. Evil’s mission is to break down life; people, relationships and communities. Jesus tackles the subject of how to deal with it.
In today’s gospel, there are a collection of statements drawn together by Matthew. I’m going to reflect upon the various ideas and see if we can put them together with a coherent picture.
Behind the passage we can imagine a context that has stimulated Jesus decision to address evil. He has been accused of being the offspring of the devil. He turns to the disciples and warns. All right despite my godly mission I have been called Beelzebub. Do you think that a student is greater than his master? If I have been labelled evil expect to be called evil yourselves.
Now this warning fits well with the final verse…
“Whoever does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”
It emphasises that the way of their Master is a tough pilgrimage. They will have to stand strong in the face of all opposition if they are to walk in his footsteps.
We might ask where we might expect to encounter evil. One of the mysterious verses in the New Testament follows. Evil can appear as closely as the most intimate relationships ... family itself. eg. He follows with several verses of potential conflict in the very heart of family. Conflict between man and father, daughter and mothers, various in-laws and he concludes one’s foes will be found in one’s very family.
Jesus declares he has not come for Peace but with a sword. To make sense of this verse it must be seen within this very restricted context. A context where you are discovering your own vision of life. In Jesus time, people were minimally educated in terms of our experience. Father of the house determined the way of life and what the family believed.
If you follow Jesus with his way of truth and love and mercy you will likely find others will oppose you, even family members. You have to learn the way of believing in your-self, your vision of life and standing strong in your conviction. You can’t just conform to satisfy others. That is not the way of the cross.
ONE WITH THE FATHER
The implication of such conviction is highlighted in the verses that precede. Standing strong with the Lord Jesus, in the face of opposition, particularly that which is of evil intent, one can be assured one is standing with the Father in heaven, to use Jesus words.
‘Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also acknowledge before my Father in heaven.’
Walking in his ways brings us into harmony with God. Evil stops this
THE WAYS OF EVIL
The advice Jesus gives us on this journey of life, is highly important. One can’t take the work of evil lightly. It has many faces for its disguises. And it has a very specific mission. I’ve already said, It is to break down people and communities. Subtle abuse, deception, harassment, all intended to destroy one’s belief that life is the most precious gift. Jesus makes two vital points.
Firstly, every soul is of infinite value to God. That can never change. Our life is so much greater than the precious sparrow and even the hairs of our head. Nothing is without its place in creation. Never forget our ultimate value, no one can destroy that.
The Second point is that evil operates in disguise and in the dark, But in the mind of God its as if in the light, nothing is unnoticed are forgotten.
So live life with the boldness of self-belief and the knowledge of how valuable you are.
A FINAL WORD
When confronted by evil the most vital truth is that it all takes place within the very being and purpose of God. Fear nothing, not even death of the body, mind or soul. For the gift of life is in God’s hands, no one elses.
To conclude it seems appropriate to recall those inspiring words of Michelle Obama in the USA election. “When they go low, you go higher.” Dealing with evil was the subplot of Jesus call to walk in love and faith.