Saturday, September 08, 2007

How do we know what to do?

Sometimes Christians can seem a little arrogant, claiming to know God's will for themselves, and sometimes for everyone else also.

All three of Sunday's lectionary readings for Mass provoke us to think a little deeper about certainty, risk, decision making.

The author of Wisdom (9:13-18b) kept on asking the right question....

For the corruptible body burdens the soul and the earthen shelter weighs down the mind that has many concerns. And scarce do we guess the things on earth ,and what is within our grasp we find with difficulty;

but when things are in heaven, who can search them out?

Really, who CAN know with certainty about things both earthly and heavenly? What DO we do with that relationship? that job? that heartache? that joy? that errant child? that troublesome thought?
Good question.

In our Second Reading Paul has written a letter asking the recipient to release Paul's friend Onesimus from slavery. He does so in order that Onesimus might help Paul out in his missionary journeys around Asia Minor. Apparently, this slave had run away from his master and was converted by Paul's preaching. Now Paul has sent the slave back to his Christian owner with his request. But notice the nuanced statement of the Apostle:

"...but I did not want to do anything without your consent,
so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary."

Sure, Paul could have used his authority and the obvious moral certainty about freedom to force the owner to decide to release Onesimus. But he didn't. He respected the freedom of the other.

Good lesson for us.
God won't force our hands. He waits like the gentleman that He is, to be asked His opinion. We could do worse for our own selves.

But wait, there's more..... I knew we couldn't get off THAT easy. Life decisions can be tough.... and, as usual, Jesus is going to make them just a little bit more difficult...

I have to repeat the whole passage, its just THAT challenging, and THAT good.
Luke 14:25-33

Great crowds were traveling with Jesus,and he turned and addressed them,
“If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother,wife and children, brothers and sisters,and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple.
Which of you wishing to construct a tower does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if there is enough for its completion? Otherwise, after laying the foundationand finding himself unable to finish the workthe onlookers should laugh at him and say,‘This one began to build but did not have the resources to finish.’

Or what king marching into battle would not first sit downand decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away,he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms. In the same way,anyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be my disciple.”

The saying starts out tough, and gets tougher.
It seems that Jesus is really asking us to give up our relationships, our money, our decision making power, all that.... and to focus entirely on Him.
And maybe that's true. God is never content to be just a part of a well balanced life, as if he were a breakfast cereal, which needed toast and juice and maybe a little coffee in order to be "complete and nutritious."

But I think it's a much deeper and lengthier process than simply deciding that it all belongs to God and just chucking all responsibility away. Instead, to me this whole discipleship thing really begins when we face a tough decision in life , "what ARE we going to do with X?"

Then, and usually only then, does God give us the freedom of will to turn to Him- by admitting that we don't have any idea of what we are to do, and give him the preferential option we too often keep for ourselves.

What do YOU want me to do, Lord?

Tough ground to stand on. But high ground too. God, help us to arrive there.


Anonymous said...


I'm only astounded that we still don't realize how many in heaven rush to our aid in any woe. Our greatest Champion-er is the greatest Champion, and He has kept nothing to Himself.


Gabrielle said...

Phil, our priest today told us that he had recently been to a diocesan gathering of priests where this passage from Luke 14 was actually discussed. They were informed that we actually have an incorrect translation re "hating", and that it should be more along the lines of "prefer less". So then it becomes a little more apparent that this is a teaching on detachment, or Holy Indifference. Our love for God must be our first love, and all creatures and created things can then be loved in a perfect way, a way which brings glory to God. If our love for the Lord does not come first, then we will not have the "resources to finish"; we will not be able to come to "completion", in perfect Love.

Phil B. said...

I've realized since my conversion how large the Family is..... from deceased relatives, to saints, to angels...all helping us along like it says in Hebrews 12:1- the "cloud of witnesses"
an (unfortunately) well-kept secret in our time.

Phil B. said...


This reminds me of the Benedictine Rule's injunction to "prefer nothing to Christ." It's really a great mystery to me how detachment works... but it does. Ok- so now we have to go back to the Abandonment Prayer of Charles de Foucauld, which I return to again and again.