Summary: Overcoming Evil with Good
The Third Sunday After Epiphany 2000
From the Epistle: Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Paul has told us this morning to overcome evil. Not only has he told us to overcome evil, but he has given us the tool with which to do it. He tells us “overcome evil with good”. It’s a great sentiment, but what does it really mean? I hope we can explore the idea of overcoming evil in our lives and in our society this morning.
I would like to begin with a bit of a story. It is a wonderful story found in the 32nd chapter of Genesis.
In this story Jacob, having stolen the blessing of his father, which rightfully belonged to his older brother Esau, is fleeing. He is in fact in pretty hot water with his entire family and fears for his life.
When he arrives at the river Jabbok, really just a shallow stream to the west of the Jordan he stops and sends his family ahead. We then read that “Jacob was left alone and there was one that wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. Now we know from tradition that Jacob was wrestling with an angel and when the angel found that he could not defeat Jacob we read that he touched the hollow of his thigh and his hip became disjointed. Even in this painful condition Jacob continued wrestling. Finally the angel says to Jacob “let me go because it is now morning.” Now Jacob, not to be outdone said to him “I will NOT let thee go, except thou bless me.” The angel asks his name and after being told his name was Jacob the angel says “thy name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel: For as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.”
No I haven’t gone off my rockers, this story really does have a connection to our theme of overcoming. The connection, however, is very subtle. You see the name Jacob, Yaakov, in Hebrew, means pretender or supplanter. In short, what we might call today a real loser. But his new name, Israel or Yisroel, in Hebrew, means one who has overcome.
There is a powerful lesson for us here, a lesson about overcoming … and the struggle necessary to overcome. But Paul doesn’t simply tell us to overcome evil. He SPECIFICALLY tells us to overcome evil with good.
This is a particularly difficult passage for us to apply to modern life.
If we look around the world today, we find plenty of examples of evil. War, famine, genocide, tyranny, infanticide, ethnic and religious hatred and the ever-increasing immorality, so prevalent in our own society.
How do we overcome these things with good? How do we apply the message of good overcoming evil to crime and drug abuse on our city streets?
Paul, by the very word he chose here gives us a hint. The word translated as good is the Greek word agathos. It refers to a spiritual quality not a physical quality. When Paul refers to the Law as being good or to an act as being good he usually chooses Kalas or Kalos. This is a very physical or exterior quality of goodness or beneficicence but agathos is the word he chooses here to convey an internal or spiritual quality.