HOPE IN THE FACE OF EVIL
First Reading: Ezekiel 37:12-14
Responsorial Psalm: 129(130)
Second Reading: Romans 8:8-11
Gospel Reading: John 11:1-45
The existence of evil and suffering is one of the biggest obstacles that Christians and Christianity must overcome. When we experience suffering and pain in our world, the reality of evil is frequently the first thing on our minds. How could an all-good, all-loving, and all-powerful God tolerate such a large amount of evil? Why doesn’t He take action in this regard? Is He all-good yet helpless and powerless in the face of evil, or vice versa? Does evil exist because God is all-powerful but not all-good? Couldn’t God have created a world without evil? Who created evil? Philosophers and other great thinkers have pondered these and other similar problems throughout history. Put in other words, while considering the reality of life and existence, man has been perplexed by what appeared to be a contradiction between the existence of a loving God and the reality of evil; which is theodicy. St. Augustine (354–430 AD), a quintessential Christian philosopher and theologian of his era (one of the first to consider this issue in terms of Christianity), addressed the problem of evil by defining it as a privation of good rather than as an entity in and of itself. The lack of something does not make it a thing in and of itself. For instance, a hole in your jacket is a privation rather than something in and of itself. By defining evil as a privation—an absence of something—rather than a fact or substance, Augustine changed the way we view evil today. This addresses some significant objections to the existence of a loving God in the face of evil. God cannot have created evil if evil is a privation and does not actually exist. I’ll venture to state that God is still completely good. Augustine continued by saying that since humans have free will, evil occurs. God gives people the freedom to choose their behaviors and deeds, and evil always follows from these decisions. Physical ills, such as sickness and other conditions, are only directly influenced by human behaviours when they come into contact with people. They can occasionally be brought on by man’s departure from what is right. Later in his life, Augustine offered a more theological justification: We are unable to comprehend God’s mind, therefore what seems bad to us may not actually be evil. The fact that God let his own Son, Jesus Christ, be executed by men (the ultimate moral evil) in order to bring about humanity’s salvation, serves as the strongest illustration of how God occasionally permits evil in order to bring about good. The readings for this Sunday, which I labeled “Hope in the face of evil,” can be better understood, given this antecedence. The three Readings serve as examples of a good God’s omnipotence and intervention in the face of evil. Jesus promises us abundant life and states that the evil of death cannot stand in the way of this heavenly promise. As Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection, approaches, this makes a lot of sense.
The First Reading (cf. Ezekiel 37:12-14), taken from the theme of “the valley of dry bones” is one of the most cherished and well-known of Ezekiel’s visions. What was the context? The vision occurred during the Babylonian Exile, a remarkable time in Israel’s history. The Babylonian army drove the Jews and their leaders into exile in Babylon in 597 BC, leaving only the country’s poorest citizens left (cf. 2 Kings 24:10-16). Jerusalem rose against Babylon ten years later, in 587–586 BC, and as a result, the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and its temple and exiled a second group of Judean leaders. The young Ezekiel was transported with the first group of Jews (whom God later called in Babylon to the office of a prophet). The future appeared to be a black hole into which the exiled Jews would eventually vanish since they appeared to have lost their identity and vanished into the haze of time. Jerusalem, its temple, its inhabitants, and the Davidic dynasty—the central symbols of the Judean faith—had all been destroyed. As a result, many exiled Judeans believed that a stronger divinity from Babylon had conquered their own deity (cf. Ps 42:3,10; 79:10; 115:2). It was in the light of these evils that Ezekiel’s prophecies came to the fore. When we read Ezekiel’s vision in chapter 37 verse 1: “Dry bones laid everywhere,” it appeared that evil had triumphed over them. But, in the face of this horrible evil, Ezekiel was able to prophesy that the Lord’s Spirit would transform the dry bones into flesh at his command (37:2-8). Thus, in another prophecy, he said that the Spirit would infuse life into the bodies (37:9-10). Therefore, in the face of continuous evil, God gave hope to his people by granting Ezekiel the mandate to foretell the spiritual resurrected state of the Israelites (cf. 37:12-14 – which we read today). But in the person of Jesus Christ, this prophecy would be given a more comprehensive perspective. His disciples would find a new hope in a final divine revival. God will provide his people with new hope and will continue to infuse them with his Spirit. He’ll instill in them fresh optimism. This is the hallmark of the Gospel’s message.
In the Gospel Reading (cf. John 11:1-45), first, we are presented with the intervention of Jesus in raising Lazarus from death. As stated earlier, no amount of evil, not even death will prevent the promise of God from being fulfilled. Symbolically, the story of the resurrection of Lazarus has a rich significance in relation to the people of God passing through various kinds of evil. How can we understand this? The name Lazarus simply means “God helps/defends”. We were told that he was the brother of Mary and Martha, from Bethany. The name Martha signifies “lady of the home”; while the name Mary, originally an Egyptian name, is derived in part from “mry”, meaning “beloved” or “mr” – “love”. As a follow-up, the word “Bethany” springs from the Hebrew “beit-te’enah” literally meaning “house of figs”. This is used to characterize the nature of the house of the poor, marginalized, oppressed etc. Therefore, in raising Lazarus from the dead, we see the hope/defence/salvation/life offered by Jesus to the poor (his beloved people) who were marginalized, oppressed, and stricken with sickness and death by the Jewish authorities and the Roman Empire at that time. This tells us that in the most difficult and darkest moments, the Lord always defends the cause of the poor and oppressed, offering hope in the face of evil.
Still reflecting on the hope offered by God in the face of evil, St. Paul, in the Second Reading (cf. Rom. 8:8-11), guarantees the Christian believers in Rome who were confronted with death/persecution to remain steadfast in the faith; that, if the Spirit of God who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in them, God would equally give life to their mortal bodies, through that same Spirit dwelling in them. As a result, Paul gives them encouragement in the face of the evil they were experiencing by offering them a glimpse of their eventual resurrection on the last day based on Jesus’ own resurrection.
Dearest friends, no matter the kind of evil that befalls us, let us, like the psalmist of today (Ps 130:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8), call on the Lord from the very depth of our hearts for forgiveness, for with Him, there is mercy and fullness of redemption. May God grant us the grace to be hopeful and steadfast all the time, even in the face of evil. Amen.
Fr. Chinaka Justin Mbaeri, OSJ
Paroquia Nossa Senhora de Loreto, Vila Mediros, São Paulo
email@example.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: Have you prayed your Rosary today?
Thank you for your reflections
May we save ourselves from our overbloated ego that leads us into sin.
Thank you for sharing this explicit reflection.
Amen . Thanks Padre