24 Feb Which Weapons Do You Use?
Fr. Denis Lemieux
There is a certain meme* floating around various circles these days, that I was reminded of when I prepared to write this article on Matthew 5: 38-48, the Gospel for the 7th Sunday in Ordinary Time.
According to this meme, the human race is divided into three types of people. There are sheep, who ignore or deny the existence of evil and so are defenseless against it; there are wolves, who are the evil people who do evil stuff and prey on the sheep; and there are the sheepdogs, who are able to make good use of violence to protect the sheep from the wolves.
Of course, we are supposed to despise the sheep, hate the wolves, and aspire to be good sheepdogs running around with our firearms to blow away bad guys. At least, I guess that’s the gist of that particular meme.
Before I go any further with this article, I probably should make it clear that I have great respect and gratitude for the members of the armed forces and the police (where this meme tends to have a lot of traction), and the heroic work they in fact do to protect the public.
My dad was military, and I had an uncle who was a police officer. I get it. Thank you all, very much!
But this whole sheep/wolves/sheepdog thing: how does that stack up to what Jesus Christ tells us in the Gospel? Do not resist an evildoer … turn the other cheek … give your cloak as well… go a second mile … give … love your enemies … be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Seems like there’s a bit more to this whole confrontation of good and evil in the world than can be captured in a simplistic internet meme. Who knew?
Myself, I would definitely be classed as a sheep by said meme. I have never fired a gun in my life, and am so notoriously clumsy that if I ever did I would probably wind up shooting myself in the foot. And yet …
I confront and combat evil every day of my life. Don’t you? The evil in my own heart—the “wolf within.”
The evil in the world—not bad guys blowing stuff up and blazing their guns at the good guys, but the constant downward pressure of un-love, of selfishness, of anger, of deceit and compromise and mediocrity—all that swirls around human society and can capture any of us in its vortex any day.
And of course the actual Evil Ones, the spirits who are at work in this world to drag souls to hell wherever they can.
In short, the world, the flesh, and the devil—evil at work in my life and in all lives. But Matthew 5 gives us a different set of weapons than guns and such to use against evil … and the Lord’s own command to use these weapons.
Love, give, go, turn: there is a whole lot more going on in the battle against evil than “blow ‘em away, bro!” The Lord Jesus seems to be telling us that there is quite a bit more to the task of overcoming evil than simply killing or imprisoning those we deem to be evil-doers.
Now, this is not an article about just war theory or the need for proper criminal justice systems—police, courts, prisons—to maintain the order and peace of civil society. All of that I grant, fully and unconditionally.
This is about something much deeper, though, and something we have to come to grips with in our world today.
In the year 2017, the world is awash with hatred, anger, division, violence. Our politics are polarized—we no longer have political opponents, but rather “enemies” who are not to be reasoned with, but destroyed.
And there are “bad guys” out there, and we of course (it is beyond dispute!) are the “good guys.” Contempt, vulgar abuse, and loud shouting down those one disagrees with have become the order of the day, the new normal.
And all of this cannot be limited to one side or the other of our political discourse—it is endemic across the board.
And so the Lord says, Do not resist the evildoer … love your enemy … be perfect. What do we make of this?
It seems to me that this command of the Lord (and it is a command, make no mistake about that) calls us to engage with evil at a much deeper and more essential level than the simplistic approach advocated by the meme I began with.
We are, indeed, sheep, the sheep of God’s pasture, the sheep who hear the shepherd’s voice (cf. Ps 100, John 10). This Shepherd knew all about the evil in the world, and how it is to be overcome. He overcame it by laying down his life out of love for us who have sinned against him.
We are the sheep, but we are also the wolves (or at least, we have some lupine tendencies). But the Shepherd loves those wolves, too, and died for them. And so we sheepish wolves or wolfish sheep (depending on how you look at it) can become with and in him, shepherds.
That is, we too can lay down not just our cloak, but our lives. We too can go not just a second mile, but all the way to Calvary and beyond. We can not only turn the other cheek, but deliver over our bodies as living sacrifices of love, if he asks us.
This is how evil is really destroyed, how the war is really won.
First through our own overcoming of the evil in our own hearts, through repentance and conversion, and then through our treading the path of merciful love in this world, no matter what it costs us, in the very perfection of God the Father who has made us to be in the image of his Son and who gives us his Spirit to achieve that perfection in us.
It may not be as simplistic as just “blowing bad guys away,” but it is Simple in the deepest and best sense of the word: evil is overcome by good, and goodness is the love of Jesus Christ poured into our hearts by the grace of the Holy Spirit. And in this year of 2017, we will all need that love and that grace more and more, don’t you think?
*A meme is an idea, picture, or story that circulates rapidly around on social media. It’s like a virus, but with words and pictures.