Posted June 29, 2016
At this point in the Gospel narrative (Luke 9: 18-22) a horrendous prospect opens up before us. Jesus predicts that he will be rejected, abused and put to death. This is St Luke’s version of an incident that is reported in each of the first three Gospels. St Luke, for his part, has toned it down somewhat. In the Gospels of St Mark and St Matthew, Peter is scandalized by the idea that evil is part of God’s plan for his Messiah, and Jesus rebukes him. St Luke omits Peter’s protest and Jesus’ rebuke, and instead whisks us away into the narrative of the transfiguration, to beautiful horizons, where brilliant light replaces the darkness and the prospect of evil is forgotten.
But the scandal of evil remains in our minds and the experience of it touches our lives. Turn on the news and evil is all around you. The massacre in Orlando, Florida, and now the brutal murder of Jo Cox on our own streets overwhelms us, leaving no possibility of escape into beautiful horizons. Whether all this was the result of psychiatric illness, or of hatred pure and simple, or of a mixture of the two, the effect of it is the same: destruction and grief, such that hope, and goodness and God are no longer in the picture. And think of the unspeakable brutality that is being inflicted on countless innocent people day by day in the Middle East and elsewhere. Think also of countless other stories where evil gets its way, like reports of young children being subjected to prolonged abuse and torture at the hands of adults, mothers, fathers or that ubiquitous boyfriend, that appear in the news virtually every day.
Surrounded by such evil, even believers will ask themselves: Is there a God? How could God allow such evil? Does God care? St Peter, in St Mark and St Matthew, was right to protest at Jesus’ teaching that the triumph of evil and God’s plan for his Messiah must be held together; and by omitting to report St Peter’s protest, St Luke omits something that is very important to us. For it is our protest too.
There are no easy answers to the mystery of evil, and for some Christians, perhaps including ourselves, the protest may end in the abandonment of faith.
But there is surely an alternative. We must not let evil drive us away from God. If, with St Peter, we cannot hold together God and evil, we can at least try to hold together God and the victims of evil. Rowan Williams speaks of a kind of prayer for others that consists simply in ‘holding the image and sense of a person or situation in the presence of God as if you want to let the one seep into the other.’ He is commenting on the words of someone who wrote to a friend: ‘I’m going to spend ten minutes just thinking about you and Jesus.’ To some, this may seem sentimental, simplistic even, but we can be sure that that kind of prayer will spread God’s goodness among his suffering children and at the same time safeguard us from discouragement.
Today we make our ‘pause for thought’ after the homily just a little longer than usual. Let’s focus intensely on those who are suffering and on the person of Jesus, and hold them together in our minds and hearts: remembering that Jesus himself was rejected, abused, tortured, killed: and triumphed wonderfully over evil in the end.
Fr Tom Deidun