The subtlety of evil


My mother had a beautiful garden which graced her front lawn. There were exotic flowers and plants, along with miniature trees and bushes.

She had not been feeling well, and knowing she was worried about her weeding, I offered to donate a day to the project. Her response was less than enthusiastic, “Van, you don’t know the difference between an oak tree and a daffodil.”

I assured her I knew much more than she thought, donned my most “earthy-looking” clothes, and a pith-helmet. Shouldering a hoe I set out for the task at hand.

I had no more started when I realized my mother was right, I could not tell the difference between her flowers, and some of the more beautiful flowering weeds that had grown up. One blooming plant seemed a perfect fit in the garden scheme, but there was something not quite right. So, I studied the situation.

My mother’s next door neighbor, a lawyer, came home from work and surprised to see me working in a garden came over. He said, “So, what are you staring at?” I told him that I was trying to decide if the plant was a weed so I would know to pull it up or not. He looked at the pretty plant for a moment and said, “You know, I’ll bet it doesn’t think it’s a weed…”

In Matthew 13:24-30, we find the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares (or Weeds). Jesus tells how an evil one (the Devil) comes and attempts to destroy a crop planted by the owner of the field, by mixing good seed with bad seed, wheat and tares. The word translated “tares” in the King James Version is thought to mean “Darnel,” a ryegrass which looks very much like wheat in its early stages.

Darnel, if ingested, can make one sick. Certainly, it could destroy a crop of wheat, and at the very least make it difficult to harvest successfully. There are many wonderful lessons to be found in this parable, but I would like to mention one that might be especially helpful to keep in mind in an age of religious novelty and human willfulness.

Faith and its practice, offered and given in love by God, is often the focus of attack by the those whose purpose is, knowingly or unknowingly, to destroy these gifts — these seeds planted. The attack can be very subtle, as those by the deceiver often are — seductive voices calling for inclusion and blind tolerance, acceptance of understandings that meld the world’s teaching with that of the Christian faith, asserting the way of the world is superior.

Being tolerant of the world around us is one thing, but that does not mean that Christians allow the world to define them. Christ defines us, and helps us understand who we are called to be, through Scripture, Tradition, and a transformed Reason.

Let us not only be wary of the seductive voices around us, but let us also be wary that we ourselves do not act in evil by justifying our own lives in light of the world, the flesh, and the devil, preferring our own judgment to living in accordance with God’s will.

The Rev. Walter Van Zandt Windsor is rector at Trinity Episcopal Church.

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