Should I embezzle money from my employer to buy myself a Corvette? Most folks would reject this idea without a second thought. Should I embezzle money from my employer to pay for the operation my child needs? Though most of us would reject this idea as well, our reaction would be slower and we’d feel a tension missing in the first case.
People have known for a long time that the really difficult moral judgments aren’t whether or not to do something bad simply for our own pleasure. The hard choices center on doing something bad in order to accomplish something good.
This gospel says that Jesus faced the temptation of using force and political manipulation to bring about the world of God’s promise. He considered it and decided against it. The gospels hint at such temptations in other places such as when Peter told Jesus not to risk arrest and execution by preaching in Jerusalem. Jesus, none too gently, warned him against getting in the way of his work. Later on Peter wanted to take up arms to protect Jesus and his mission. Again Jesus let him know he was hurting, not helping, the cause. These ideas, put in Peter’s mouth, were certainly ones that Jesus wrestled with.
There are always good, sensible sounding reasons for doing evil to accomplish something good. But to acquiesce to them is to become part of the underlying problem. If we can do something evil to advance our good agenda why shouldn’t others do something evil to accomplish what they see as good? There is no reason. And we end up with the same the messes in the world that we’ve always faced with folks doing whatever they deem necessary for results they find laudable. I’ve never met anyone who decided to hurt others, whether it involved a million people or two, saying, “I’m going doing this because I’m mean and bad and like to hurt folks.”
This gospel warns against the seductiveness of telling ourselves that we can do evil for a righteous cause. It’s a crucial caution about a rationalization that has hindered the World of God’s Promise more than any heresy or persecution.