Moral evil is too widely recognisable to be dismissed as just a religious concept. It thrives precisely because many choose to ignore it. Like the Psalmist, we recognise our complicity and seek forgiveness.
But the Lord God called to the man, and said to him, "Where are you?" He said, "I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself." He said, "Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?" The man said, "The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate."
Then the Lord God said to the woman, "What is this that you have done?" The woman said, "The serpent tricked me, and I ate." The Lord God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, cursed are you among all animals and among all wild creatures; upon your belly you shall go, and dust you shall eat all the days of your life. I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike your head, and you will strike his heel."
Just as we have the same spirit of faith that is in accordance with scripture - "I believed, and so I spoke" - we also believe, and so we speak, because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus, and will bring us with you into his presence. Yes, everything is for your sake, so that grace, as it extends to more and more people, may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God.
So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure, because we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.
Jesus came to the house with his disciples; and the crowd came together again, so that they could not even eat. When his family heard it, they went out to restrain him, for people were saying, "He has gone out of his mind." And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, "He has Beelzebul, and by the ruler of the demons he casts out demons." And he called them to him, and spoke to them in parables, "How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but his end has come. But no one can enter a strong man's house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered.
"Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin" - for they had said, "He has an unclean spirit."Then his mother and his brothers came; and standing outside, they sent to him and called him. A crowd was sitting around him; and they said to him, "Your mother and your brothers and sisters are outside, asking for you." And he replied, "Who are my mother and my brothers?" And looking at those who sat around him, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother."
In a celebrated speech, a former President of the US, Ronald Reagan, describe Soviet Russia as the "empire of evil." How uncomplicated life would be if evil could be so geographically defined! This formula had all the simple charm of an old Western movie with its classical conflict between the good guys and the bad guys. That the system of government in the Soviet Bloc was corrupt was widely known. Writers like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (The Gulag Archipelago) had fleshed out its operation with spine-chilling detail. Other courageous dissidents such as Vaclav Havel and Andrei Sakharov added further witness. With the arrival of Glasnost and the sudden collapse of the Iron Curtain, more of the evil that permeated the system has come to light. But we should not leave this movie, cheered that the good guys had triumphed. There is little cause for anybody, least of all an American President, to rub his hands gleefully at the demise of communist totalitarianism. Evil is not that easily routed. The serpent raises its ugly head elsewhere.
Satan is alive and well, not far from the White House itself, ravaging the streets of Washington with crack and cocaine. The old maxims are often vindicated by events. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely." We can also recall the Shakespearean maxim: "The evil men do lives after them." What never ceases to astonish about a Nazi Germany or a Stalinist Russia, or the promoters of an "Arab Spring" is how so many people, by all appearance simple, decent and well-motivated', can be got to connive at evil.
Another maxim is worth remembering: "For evil to triumph, it is enough that good men do nothing" (Edmund Burke).Too many people are content look the other way, while refugees throng in camps or are sent back to places of destruction. Yeats once wrote, graphically, "The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/ The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/ The best lack all conviction, while the worst/ Are full of passionate intensity."
It has become fashionable in our time to reject the doctrine of original sin, which, the catechism said, left us "prone to evil." But in myriad ways our daily newspapers confirm this doctrine. Four times each day, morning, midday, evening and night, newscasters chronicle in words and pictures the spectacle of man's inhumanity to man. Through our mass-media, no generation was ever better informed than ours of the effects of original sin. We can think of many spectacular examples. Our own sins may be less newsworthy but nonetheless deadly. The psalmist speaks for all of us. "If you, 0 Lord, should mark our guilt, Lord, who would survive? But with you is found forgiveness:For this we revere you."
The threat of evil in human existence is deep and widespread. The Genesis text deals with the origin of evil — it comes both from outside man (as the Serpent-Tempter) and also from within. The human condition with its experience of disharmony in human relationships and in our relationship with God is presented as a fall from the ideal, and this disharmony which is the essence of evil, is the result of sin.The homily might develop the notion of evil from contemporary examples — e. g. of political and social discord fragmenting societies with oppression and violent revolution, disharmony in family life, and the resulting chain reaction of bitter responses. Just as in the case of Adam and Eve, sin is never a private affair; it always has social implications, for others are affected.
The parable of Jesus about disharmony has a wider resonance than just a single household: a house divided cannot stand. Equally we can see that a humanity radically divided and fighting against itself cannot survive, since the ingenious creativity of science has produced enough destructive power to render our world totally uninhabitable. One of the paradoxes of the human situation seems to be that the more control we develop over the world and the more goods we can produce, the more the possibilities for evil also proliferate. This is the Achilles heel, the radical flaw in our fallen human state.
This ambiguity is suggested in Genesis where it says: "He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel." Human achievements are so often flawed; we can build our towers to the heavens but they become a Babel of confusion and races. What hope is there then for us? The Gospel provides a way forward. What was hinted at in Genesis came to its full revelation in the ministry of Jesus, who worked to fully overcome the power and influence of evil. What he revealed in action was God's power restoring creation — healing women and men and making them whole again. From here on our humankind is no longer left on its own in a hopeless struggle against evil. It is now possible for us to share in the new creation, if we belong to Christ.
The best gifts of God can be rejected, as we can see from the Jewish leaders' cynical reaction Jesus. Pride, the desire to make oneself the arbiter of all that is good, motivates them to see in Jesus not the visible power of the Spirit of God, but a trick of the devil. What seemed to be good they could not deny but only reinterpret, in order to cling to their own fixed position. Such a closed mentality is censured by Jesus - for we must be ready to see God's goodness in unexpected places. Our road back to the new creation involves openness and humility. It is a journey that does not involve positions of guaranteed privilege. Even the blood relatives of Jesus have no special standing in the kingdom. To belong to Jesus is equally open to all; the only condition is our readiness to commit oneself to doing the Father's will. This was the commitment that Adam and Eve failed to make but which is opened up to us in Christ.