Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Wednesday in the 5th Week of Ordinary Time (I)
The Line between Good and Evil

Readings: Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-17; Psalms 104:1-2a, 27-28, 29bc-30; Mark 7:14-23

The good news in our gospel today is quite obvious, especially for those of us who are preparing to celebrate the Lunar New Year. Jesus pronounces all foods clean. But really the gospel message goes far deeper than the question of what we can or cannot eat. Today, our readings invite us to consider how and where we draw the line between clean and unclean, between good and evil.

Some days ago, someone was heard wondering about how we are often told to avoid being judgmental. But isn’t this very impractical? Don’t we need to discern the good from the bad, the clean from the unclean? Doesn’t this mean judging? How then to avoid being judgmental?

Jesus’ comments on Jewish dietary habits help us to reflect more deeply on these questions. When trying to distinguish between good and evil, the tendency among us, as it was with the Jews, is to draw the line outside of ourselves. So more than just distinguishing between clean and unclean foods, we may also draw the line between good and bad religions, or holy and evil people. Isn't this what some of us seem to have been doing, for example, when dealing with the issue of homosexuality that has filled the pages of the last two issues of the Catholic News? It's quite understandable, of course. We learn this approach from a young age.

We know how those of us who are parents often wish to shield our children as long as possible from the seedier side of life. Much like how God seems to be shielding Adam and Eve in the first reading. But we know that this can’t go on forever. The fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has already been eaten. There is no turning back. So we give our children very broad guidelines. We tell them not to talk to strangers. And when we tell them stories or bring them to the movies, we teach them to tell the good guys from the bad guys. This approach is fine for children. But it causes problems when we grow up. For isn’t it true that when we adopt this kind of approach, we can very easily become judgmental and legalistic, and can even cause much needless pain and conflict?

In contrast, Jesus reminds us that evil arises not so much from without as it does from within. As someone once wrote: the line between good and evil passes through the human heart. If this is true, then perhaps we’re not so much called to judge between clean and unclean foods, or between good and evil people, as much as we are called to discern good and evil tendencies. And we only discern well to the extent that we learn to look within ourselves and to see that those same evil tendencies that Jesus speaks of in the gospel are to be found in each of us. And isn’t it only when we embark on this inward journey that we encounter the One who accepts us for who we are and yet calls us into the fullness of life? Isn’t it only in this way that we are enabled to deal more firmly and yet more compassionately with others around us who are caught up in the same ongoing struggle between good and evil?

Today, how is the Lord moving us away from being superficially judgmental and towards being truly discerning?

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