Christ breathing his last on the cross amid the jeers and cruel mocking of those who crucified him, epitomizes what seems to be the weakness and powerlessness of good in the face of the apparently overwhelming power of evil. Again and again in the long and violent history of humanity, evil tyrants, dictators, and corrupt political regimes have imposed their ruthless will on the vulnerable, the poor, and the helpless. And although the loving and nonviolent response of saintly, good, and virtuous men and women to the evil visited upon them is edifying and admirable, nevertheless their goodness seems to have little, if any, effect on evil. Living, as we do, in a world and society in which evil seems to have the ascendency, we might wonder if goodness, virtue, love, and mercy are truly powerless against evil?
God’s assurance to Abraham that he would spare Sodom if only ten innocent people were found within it, suggests that goodness is not without its effect in the face of sin and evil. This divine promise can, perhaps, be understood in two ways. The first (suggested by the text itself) is that ten innocent citizens of Sodom would have served as a kind of ransom rescuing the evil majority from destruction. However, an alternate interpretation is that the presence of even just ten virtuous and innocent persons would have served as a holy leaven permeating that corrupt city and significantly lessening, if not eradicating, the evil that otherwise predominated. Thus, the extreme evil of the city was itself proof that no innocent persons resided there to spiritually affect or dilute the prevailing evil.
It is thus, perhaps not coincidental that the presently divisive polarization in our own country, along with the simultaneous escalation of violence and crime occurs at a time when more and more are rejecting religion and membership in Christ’s Mystical Body, the Church. In this I recall Thomas Merton’s early visits to Gethsemani and his somewhat idealistic assertion that it was the center of America, the axle around which the whole country blindly turns and knows nothing about. And because of the prayers of the monks, he thought, the world is spared, from minute to minute, from the terrible doom. Now although this may be a pious exaggeration, it encapsulates an essential truth that is, however, not demonstrable but only accepted in faith.
This truth is that as disciples of Christ (however imperfect we still are) we constitute a holy leaven in our world and society and are Christ’s partners in confronting evil and overcoming it with good. Thus, if every Christian were removed from our world and society, we would likely be surprised by just how dark and desperate the state of the world would become. Accordingly, this consideration should spur on our efforts at conversion and growing conformity to Christ, so that we may become an ever more effective holy and transforming leaven in our society. For, as Saint Seraphim of Sarov urged, through a life of conversion, acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved. And in doing so, we may just help ensure—in the words of Thomas Merton—that the world continue to be spared, from minute to minute, from the terrible doom.