While most churches will focus on verses 1-12 of Matthew 2 this coming Sunday, I’m going to comment today on the six verses that follow the text for Epiphany. Innocent children were murdered after the wise men deceived Herold in an attempt to wipe out the Christ child. Light came into the world. Then darkness immediately tried to overcome it.
We were reminded of the horror of innocent children being murdered before Christmas – with the killing of twenty first graders and six educators. That makes it too easy to relate to this story in which all male children under two years old in and around Bethlehem were killed by a self-serving king.
What happened in Newtown, CT, like in Bethlehem, was an act of evil. But I’m going to qualify that statement. For me, evil no longer means “wicked” or “with malicious intentions.” In most cases, evil could mean “without maturity” or “actions arising from someone who is not fully developed or complete.”
My first understanding of the word “evil” came from biblical stories of Jesus casting out evil spirits. In my mind as a child, I pictured evil spirits as demonic beings that get inside and control the actions of the person they possess. They were an external force, not under a person’s control. Devils are a childlike way of visualizing some hard to identify internal influences that erupt in actions that harm others.
The Aramaic word for evil shows us that evil is broader than simply malicious deeds. It means evil in the sense of unripe, undeveloped, immature, actions done in the wrong timing. Or actions that are done out of rhythm with what is peaceful and harmonious. The Aramaic word for good is ripe. Actions done at the right time and place.
So how should we respond to evil – to the actions that come from people who are undeveloped, who lack maturity, or are out of tune with harmony? St. Paul said, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.” Don’t be overwhelmed with immature actions but overcome unripeness with maturity, with ripe actions that restore health and harmony.
I think that’s why NBC News correspondent, Ann Curry’s request our response to the tragedy in Connecticut should be to commit twenty-six acts of kindness is striking a harmonious chord with people around the world. I think a lot of us are tired of the mentality that says we have to go to war with evil in the world. Darkness has never gotten rid of darkness. Only the light can get rid of darkness.
Punishment or retaliation will not stop the unripe actions of people. You can’t make an undeveloped tree produce ripe fruit any other way than to make sure it gets appropriate sunlight, warmth, water, and nourishment. When you help an immature tree to secure what it needs to reach its full potential, only then it will begin to produce good fruits.
God gave you and me hands to use to do his work. If you want peace, harmony, unity, to happen in the world, you’ve got to do what it takes to make it happen in your world. You have to be a good tree, producing ripe fruit where you are. When enough of us start responding in peace and harmony and maturity in our worlds, then Christ’s light in us will chase away the darkness.
Jesus himself practiced random acts of kindness. He healed the sick, fed those who were hungry; he cast out the unripe spirits of those who couldn’t produce good fruits. That’s the religion we ought to be practicing. A religion of committing random acts of kindness in the world.
So I’m going to challenge you to make some resolutions this year. I challenge you to make a commitment to returning any evil that touches you with ripeness, with goodness, with acts of kindness. Don’t just say you’ll do it, do it.
It doesn’t have to be money you give away. Give something more valuable, like your time. Take someone who doesn’t get out much to a movie every month…it’s okay to do something you enjoy. Set aside a day every week or month to volunteer at a school, or hospital. Give money to a preschool to lighten the burden of a child whose parent has lost their job. Pay the next month’s fee in advance for them, anonymously.
I’m putting together a quick booklet on random acts of kindness that I’ll be offering free. I’ll let you know when it’s available.
You don’t have to wait for someone’s immature actions to spur your acts of kindness. There’s a Hindu saying – The good deed that is done – not in return, but in the first instance – is more precious than anything in this world or beyond. Nothing can repay that act. Tirukkural 101-102
When you bring sunshine and warmth into a tree’s life, that tree stands a better chance of developing to its full potential. And one day, you may see and experience fruits that you never believed possible from trees you thought were worthless.
Be the light. Be the change you want to see.