The bombing at the Boston Marathon on Monday was horrific, perpetrated by a person or persons who were evil. That’s widely accepted as truth by people who encourage peace. In my recent ebook, Be the Light: Overcoming Evil with Good (free for all ereaders at Smashwords or 99 cents at Amazon), I redefine evil as it comes out of Hebrew and Aramaic—the languages of Jesus.
“The Hebrew word for evil (ra’) means several things, ranging from the opinion that something is (1) bad, like fruit that has rotted or meat that has putrefied; (2) displeasing, as a woman might be in the eyes of her patriarchal husband; or (3) harmful, like wild beasts, poisonous berries, or disease. In a general sense, evil refers to anything that causes pain, unhappiness, or misery. In the Bible, a man whose heart is evil could vary from being sorrowful to vicious, depending upon the context.”
The Aramaic word for evil (bisha) help us to imagine a deeper origin for the behavior. It refers to a sense of being unripe, undeveloped, or inappropriate. The roots of bisha point to those things that distract you from moving forward. They express what is not ready or is out of rhythm with what is harmonious. An inappropriate action that comes from a person who is not in rhythm or who is not whole or fully developed could be regarded as evil.
On the other side of the coin, the Aramaic word for good is taba. It means “ripe” or indicates something is ready for its purpose. Good is what is done at the right time and place. Its roots point to something that maintains its integrity and health by inner growth in harmony with what surrounds it. When I think of “ripe,” I think of a fruit that is fully matured, or an action that comes out of maturity or wholeness.
In John 10:11, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” I am a mature shepherd. I do the right things. I lead my sheep to do the right things, and in doing so, I bring life to my sheep. Abundant life. Eternal life.
“They hear my voice.” They understand who it is that is speaking among all the other voices around them. They can discern what I say because my actions back up what comes out of my mouth. I’m a man of peace, not of violence. When people curse me, I forgive them. When people hurt me, I forgive them. Like a mature parent deals with young children, I understand that they are undeveloped, unripe—they can’t help themselves.
Martin Luther said sheep have the responsibility to choose who they will follow. There are two prayers in Praying the Gospels with Martin Luther (sermons for John 10:1-11 and John 10:11-16) that focus on the Shepherd and the sheep. Luther said Christ is not bound to Moses’ law. Some of Moses’ instructions didn’t help people ripen or become fully actualized in the image of God. Moses wasn’t a fully actualized shepherd like Jesus. Yet he was a shepherd. But it begs the question: which shepherd will you follow? You can’t follow both.
I think one main point of Jesus in this passage is found when he says, “I give them eternal life and in no way will they perish.” Those who follow the teachings and actions of the ripe, fully developed Shepherd will experience the kind of life only God can provide—an energized life that has meaning and purpose; and in no way will they be diminished or destroyed by the immature actions of those around them. Evil will not overcome them. They will be a force that stops the cycle of pain because they follow his teachings and his actions.
Returning to the evil we have witnessed in Boston this week, how do you think the Mature Shepherd would recommend we respond to that act of violence?
I’ll quote Jesus, replacing some of the words with newer meanings:
Do not repay immature actions (actions that are out of rhythm with harmony and unity), with the same unripeness; but respond with maturity, with ripe actions that restore health and harmony.
As I said in Be the Light, darkness has never gotten rid of darkness. Only light can get rid of darkness. You can’t make an immature tree produce ripe fruit any other way than giving it adequate sunlight, warmth, water, and nourishment. When you help a tree to secure what it needs to reach its full potential, only then can it produce good fruits. Sunshine and warmth start with mature people shining on the immature with acts of kindness.
For me, this means that we must deal with the root of the problem. We must find ways to help people develop completely into mature, beautiful creatures—made in the image of God. We cannot do this simply by pointing to our Good Shepherd and saying “Follow him”, especially if we are not following everything he taught.
We must become mature first. We must become the beautify, self-giving image of God, sheep that are following their shepherd. We must take the log out of our own eye. We must stop the cycle of evil (immaturity, unripeness) by acting like adults, fully actualized and whole, rather than acting like reactionary, undeveloped children who follow an unripe shepherd.
We must follow a Shepherd of Goodness, Mercy, Forgiveness, Love—he will lead you in paths of righteousness and beside still waters.