Turn on the evening news, open the newspaper, go to whatever news website you go to and it is pretty much the same news day in and day out. There is some war somewhere, there is crime all over the place, more people being killed. You can begin to ask yourself, when is this going to end. You know you can look at this world that is filled with violence, you can look at this world that surely has its problems and it is easy to ask the question where is God in the midst of all of this? After all if God is all knowing, all loving, and all powerful, why are there all these bad things going on?
There are allot of people who have all kinds of solutions as to how to fix the problems, but I dare say they are asking the wrong question. You see you can’t figure out how fix it until you realize what it actually is. Where does this evil come from? It’s the same question James asks us in our second reading. He asks where does all this sin come from and he answers the question for us by pointing the finger back at us. Sin, destruction, and violence in this world is the result of choices of individual human beings. God created the world good; it is we as humans who get in and mess it up. And how do we mess it up? He goes on, it’s ultimately about selfishness, about us wanting certain things or to fulfill certain desires and us just thinking about the immediate moment.
You know this question is one of the biggest questions that keeps allot of high school and college students from really coming to believe in Jesus. They ask the question, if God really loves me and He can do anything, why does He allow this thing called evil to exist? To answer that we have to first understand what evil is. It is not a thing; it is actually the absence of a thing. Sin and evil is nothing more than the absence of good. Where do you have evil? You have evil where there is no good. It is like darkness. Black is not a color; it is the absence of light. When you want darkness to disappear what do you do, shine light on it and pretty soon there is no darkness around anymore. The same is true with evil, it is not a thing, it is only present when the good is not there. So, if you want to drive the evil out, you have to fill it with goodness. This is why John F Kennedy once famously said “all it takes for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” If we stop doing good, we are left with evil, but the beauty of it is, it only takes a little bit of goodness to drive out the darkness of evil.
If you have ever been in a dark room, you know that you don’t need to turn all the lights on for the darkness to disappear. We have all done it, you just take your phone out and the little back light on your phone is often enough to drive out the darkness. The same is true with evil, just a little bit of good can make all the difference.
I learned this firsthand my first year in the seminary. As college seminarians we were sent out to do community service once a week. My first year I was assigned to an after school program with the Missionaries of Charity in north city. Let’s just say it was a little bit of a culture shock for this west county kid. It was a program where kids would come after school, where we would play with them, help them with their homework, feed them dinner, and try to take them into the chapel to pray (I don’t think we ever go them to sit still for more than a few seconds). I remember about halfway through the year I was growing extremely frustrated. I was doing all this work and it was doing nothing. Why was I even there? I made the mistake of asking that questions to one of the sisters. I said “sister what are we even doing here? Sure, these kids come for a few moments then they go back to these horrific conditions, we have been here for months and we can’t even get them to sit still.” And in a way that only a poor nun can do, this sister looked at me and said “you know these couple hours these students are here might be the only goodness these students experience all week.” She said “that little time they spend here may be there only encounter this week with what is good and if they never come to experience what is good, they will never pursue it in their life. If all they know is evil and bad things, and there is no light held out for them that there is another option then you are right there is no good we can do for them. But if we can show them just a little bit of goodness. If we can actually show them that they are loved and cared for just a couple hours a week, that could change their life.” I don’t know what has happened to those children but it makes sense. Sometimes all it takes is a little bit of goodness and the darkness is driven out.
Jesus gives us this key in today’s Gospel. Here you have the apostles arguing about who is the greatest and Jesus calls forward a child. Children at the time of Jesus were about as low in society as you could be and He says “whoever receives just one of these receives me.” You know sometimes when we see all the problems in the world, we think we need big solutions to fix these big problems, and I’m not say we don’t but I don’t know of anyone in the church today who has the power or authority to have one of those big solutions. But there are just over 700 families in this parish, each of us with different family and job situations, where all of us encounter sin and evil in our life. Imagine how different the world would be if just one person in each of families made it point to bring goodness where evil exists. If could be a simple comment to a family member we don’t talk to, a simple hello to a stranger along the way, maybe a comment to a co-worker, a little bit of light can cast out allot of darkness.
My friends, the question that James asks, where does all this sin come from is an age-old question. It is a question that hopefully each and every one of us has asked. His answer from 2,000 years ago still reigns true today. The conflicts come from us. We get in the way; we mess up the goodness that God has put into this world. I think the challenge for us then is for us to have the courage to bring the goodness back. To those areas where we see darkness or evil, to allow ourselves to be the light that casts out the darkness around us.