When confronted by the evil in the world, we are often tempted to impatience and rash action. We can appoint ourselves as God’s champions and avengers, scouring the world for evil to eradicate. Such attitudes, however, tend to produce more harm than good. As St. James reminds us, “the wrath of a man does not accomplish the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20).

This over-zealous attitude is addressed by the parable of the weeds and the wheat, which Pope Francis used as the basis for a recent Angelus address. He started by recounting the basic story of the parable: the world is like a field full of good and bad seeds which produce good and bad plants that are all growing together. While we might want to tear up all the weeds right away, Jesus warns us against doing this. Quite apart from the danger of destroying the good along with the bad (or, as Pope Francis put it, throwing out the baby with the bathwater), we run the danger of solidifying and intensifying evil rather than getting rid of it. Even in the natural world, some weeds sprout back faster the more they are removed!

Pope Francis went on to talk about a different field in which we can safely put our energy to work: the field of our hearts. We all contain good and bad seeds, good and bad plants, and with God’s help, we need to eradicate the evil within ourselves. One of the major dangers of focusing on the weeds out in the world is that we’ll forget all about the weeds in our own hearts, while neglecting the good in others. This leads to a dualistic, black-and-white worldview in which we are the heroes and everyone else merely villains. But in real life, most people are more complicated than that, containing the same messy combination of good and bad motives and impulses that we can see in ourselves.

This complexity puts some doubt on our ability to maintain what is commonly referred to as “righteous” anger. As Fr. Simon Tugwell explains in his book The Beatitudes, all anger is both righteous and unrighteous. On the one hand, any anger is a sign that something is wrong with the world; in a perfect world, none of us would ever be angry. In this sense, all anger is at least somewhat justified. But on the other hand, what is wrong with the world includes what is wrong with us—and, as Fr. Tugwell puts it, it may be that what is wrong with the world is never totally distinct from what is wrong with us.

If we focus on the weeds in our hearts, on what is wrong with us rather than on what is wrong with the world, we’ll be able to have a more charitable outlook on our neighbors. As we realize how hard it is to achieve perfection, we’ll not be as shocked when we discover that those around us have imperfections. As Pope Francis went on to say, seeing the bad in others comes naturally to us; we have to learn to see the good that God has put into them. This focus on the good is very important if we are to participate in God’s work in the world. After all, evil is negative, nothing, while good is positive. Focusing on the dark won’t prove very interesting or constructive.

Even in difficult and dark situations, we should still focus on the good that we want to see. Weeds tend to take over when the desired plants are weak or absent; it is more effective to strengthen those plants rather than to remove all the weeds.

Such a creative attitude requires a lot of trust in God. At times, the evil we experience is so overwhelming that we can’t see, or even imagine, any possible good coming out of it. But we know that God can and will bring good out of evil. His creative power outstrips our ability to reject his loving will for us. At the crucifixion, humanity committed the ultimate sin. In Jesus Christ, God came among us doing good, and we killed him. But human sin didn’t have the last word. To our surprise, Jesus rose from the dead, and returned with a renewed message of forgiveness and love. Out of the evil of Calvary, God brought the wonder and amazement of Easter morning.

It is easy to get swept away by the factions and divisions in the Church and adopt a “weedy” outlook. Blinded by tribalism and a struggle for power, we come to see those who don’t agree with us as so many weeds. Naturally, they return the favor, and both sides set about “weeding”. If we keep this up, there won’t be a green thing left in the vineyard of the Lord! But as St. John Paul II said, we are an “Easter People.” We are called to believe in God’s redeeming love and to imitate his forgiveness and renewal in our own lives. If we trust in God, we can be confident that he’ll bring good out of the evil of our turbulent times. We can let him take care of any weeding that has to be done, and instead focus on our job: showing the love of Christ to those around us.

Image: Illustration of the parable of the weeds by an unknown artist. From Wikimedia Commons.

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Malcolm Schluenderfritz hosts Happy Are You Poor, a blog and podcast dedicated to discussing radical Christian community as a means of evangelization. He works as a graphic design assistant and a horticulturalist in Littleton, CO.

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