Naming the Good (and the Evil)

What do we name as good? What do we name as evil? In the texts today, we are confronted with this old question.

In the Song of Solomon the two lovers are dancing the dangerous choreography of love. The verse immediately preceding our passage is a warning–don’t hurry love! And even as the warning is given, the two lovers seem to run headlong towards one another. Does this mean that love is evil?

In the Gospel text, Jesus rebukes the Pharisees for their tyranny — their rigid interpretation and enforcement of the law strips the law of its very goodness. Jesus reminds the people that good and evil are shown by what comes out of us, not by what goes in. The only thing that comes out of the Pharisees is pride and arrogance. Does this make their rule to wash pots and pans evil?

James tells us that it is possible to know good, but to forget about it. That it is possible to put on goodness and devotion like a cloak, such that when we are confronted with the reality of who we are, we immediately layer on more “goodness” and “devotion” in order to hide what we see. Does this make wearing clothes evil?

For white folks like me, this is so often the case with our own racism–when we are confronted with the truth of our sin, we often turn away. We remind ourselves that we are kind, we are compassionate, we have at least two–no, three!–black friends. And just like that our racism is forgotten. Does this mean that we are good people?

The harder work that both Jesus and James are calling us to is to look daily into the mirror and to name what we see, rather than what we hope to see. The Gospel calls us back to reality and out of the fantasies that we build for ourselves.

Is my kitchen a filthy mess unfit for human habitation, or do I have a fixation on keeping it perfect?

Is my body actually unhealthy, or do I have an unhealthy relationship with it?

Is my nation built on systems of oppression that protect white power, or was it built on the ideal that all people are created equal?

Is it love or lust that drives my desire for another?

Is it humility or pride that encourages me to take on more responsibility?

Is it righteous indignation or wrath that moves me to lift up my fist?

Is it hunger or gluttony that calls me to lift up my fork?

Am I called to my work by the desire for human flourishing, or am I driven to it by my greed?

Do I practice Sabbath rest, or are am I seduced into wasting my life in sloth?

Do I act out of concern for my neighbors, or does envy and the fear of losing what little I have gained keep me locked up in my heart and in my house?

The reality is that good and evil are often bound up together. I can answer all of the questions above with a simple yes.

Each morning the Church, through the wisdom of the many millions who came before us, confesses its sin. In my community, we are currently using the Book of Common Prayer to help guide our prayer life, but the confession is present in most prayer resources. Each day we start by looking into the mirror of our soul and naming what we see. And then we forgive one another–not merely by the words we say–but even through the act of coming together again the next day to practice this act of seeing, naming, and forgiving. Each day we name what is good. Each day we name what is evil. Each day we commit ourselves to move towards what is good, and to root out what is evil. Each day we fail. And each day we return to the table, practice forgiveness, eat a little bread, drink a little wine, and we are refreshed to begin again.

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