The readings of today rest on the premise that there is wickedness in the world. This wickedness is not as a result of natural evils but it is being perpetuated by men and women. God created everyone to be good but some persons continue to derail from how they were created and are becoming increasingly wicked. But the focus of the readings is not the wickedness in the world per se but the children of God who continue to be targets of wickedness. In the first reading, Jeremiah cried out as a result of the plot against his life. In the gospel, Jesus prepared the minds of his disciples that will be confronted with wickedness. St. Paul, in the second reading, noted that sin entered the world through one and this resulted to death. However, the three readings reveal that evil has been conquered by the one who destroyed death itself. The conquering of evil does not imply that evil no longer exists, or that evil will no longer confront good people but that goodness with always triumph against evil. For this reason, we must not give in to wickedness and we must not give up because of wickedness. Both to give in and to give up amounts to disassociating ourselves from the victory that has already been won. Endurance will win us our lives. Now let us consider the characteristics of agents of wickedness as enumerated by the readings of today. From the first reading, we see that these agents of wickedness are often times familiar friends. As a result of their closeness to us, they know us too well, but they use this knowledge to strike us where and when it is most painful.
They are people whom we consider as friends but who themselves do not see us in same light. With their closeness to us, they watch out for our errors so that they can effect our downfall that they have always desired. From the gospel reading, we see that their evil planning is always in secret. This means that they are conscious of the fact that they are being malicious. They know that you have done nothing wrong to warrant their wickedness; they know that they are repaying your kindness with evil. But because they have made up their minds to harm you, they rather plan in secret. Your offense may be the right thing you did, the truth you said or stood for, the daily effort you make to be good which reminds them of how bad they are, your refusal to join them execute one evil or the other. Your offence may just be the little positive impact you make in your environment or the blessings God has given to you. They just wish people stop talking about how good you are or trying to be. Such persons abound in our world. If we have them in our lives, we may not know them because they are expert pretenders. We should be careful, but we cannot be too careful. So the focus of today’s readings is not in discovering who these wicked people are but in plugging ourselves on God so that no matter who they are, no matter they close they are to us, they will not succeed. However, Jeremiah is confident that with the Lord by his side as a dread warrior, his persecutors will stumble and never overcome him. They will be greatly shamed. In the gospel, Jesus asked that we have no fear of wicked men and women, for whatever they plan in secret will be nullified and brought to the open. Darkness will never overcome light; nor secrecy overcome truth. Our victory over evil will be the victory of Christ over death. Though Jesus died, he overcame through the resurrection. So Jesus says to us: “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell”.
By this, Jesus is saying that the worse the wickedness of men can achieve is the death of the faithful; yet, this worse is no victory at all. Truth be told, we are limited in understanding how God can establish victory over evil in our lives. That is why, when death or some serious calamity strike, our faith is shaken because, for us, the worse has happened. Beloved, even when our understanding fail us, like Jeremiah, let us just pray: “O Lord of hosts, …let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause”. The victory over evil is assured and established, not based on human calculations but on absolute trust in the Word of God. The gospel reading encourages us not to be afraid. A kind of fear we must guide against is one that intimidates us from persevering in doing good so that we may not further attract the wickedness of men. In fact, the moment we act in such manner, we have invariably contributed to the triumph of evil over good. So Jesus said: “everyone who acknowledge me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven; but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven”. To stop being good means to stop acknowledging Jesus before the heavenly Father. Here, we are challenged to guide against the denial of Peter who out of fear, three times said that he does not know Jesus. Meanwhile, to gain victory over evil, we must ensure that we are not on the side of evil. A kingdom that is divided against itself cannot stand. As Jeremiah prayed in the first reading, he was bold enough to declare his innocence before God: “O Lord of hosts, who test the righteous, who see the heart and mind…” In the second reading, St. Paul tells us that sin attracted death; meaning, death is the end of those on the path of sin. Beloved, you cannot win the battle against evil when you are evil yourself. It makes no sense crying out against wickedness when you are wicked yourself. This is a clarion call to examine ourselves in our relationship with others especially those who are subject to us. Wickedness does not pay. The sorrow of another should not be the source of your joy; the downfall of another should not be your stepping stone. God is the lifter of men; whoever is not lifted by God is not standing at all. God Bless You!
• Rev. Fr. Evaristus Okeke is a priest of the Archdiocese of Benin City