Fr. Scott Lewis talks about keeping an open mind about truth and God's wisdom will prevail Graphic by David Chen

God’s wisdom will prevail

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  • August 18, 2016

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 4 (Wisdom 9:13-18b; Philemon 9-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33)

For all of the intelligence and knowledge that human beings possess, we can often be spectacularly wrong about many things.

It is puzzling to see intelligent people of good will reason their way to opposing positions on issues. Intelligence is no guarantee of correctness; impeccable reasoning no guarantee of truth. This does not stop people from trying — just witness the shouting, screaming and fist-shaking during elections or discussions of hot-button public issues.

The author of Wisdom recognizes these human limitations but perhaps overstates his case by insisting that human reasoning is worthless. The problem is our understanding is limited — we perceive and judge by outward appearances alone. We are also constrained by our upbringing, education, culture and life experiences. These lenses can distort our view of the world in powerful ways. This should not lead to despair, but a profound humility.

Many spiritual traditions wisely observe that awareness of our own ignorance or lack of understanding is the first and most crucial step to true enlightenment. As long as we egotistically insist on being “right” the truth will flee before us. This is especially the case when human beings presume to know the will of God or have God all figured out. Not only are these efforts presumptuous, they are usually wrong, for they are based on the projection of human fears and desires. Our author has a solution: pray and open ourselves to the Spirit of God and God’s wisdom, which can only happen when we let go of our own obsession with being right. Maybe that is why we find it so difficult — we are afraid of what we might hear. We have to be willing to change our minds or even to concede that others might have a better way.

Part of Paul’s wisdom was the persuasiveness of love. He was seeking to convince Philemon to accept his runaway slave Onesimus back without anger or punishment. He asked even more — he wanted Philemon to treat him as a brother in the Lord rather than a slave. Although Paul could have ordered Philemon to do so, he did not want to appeal on the basis of authority. His appeal was on the basis of love.

In many cities, one can see the shells of unfinished buildings or public works projects that have ground to a halt for lack of funds. The parable of Jesus rings true: before undertaking anything, be sure you have the resources, commitment and stamina to see it through to the end. Even though Jesus used construction and military analogies, He clearly had discipleship in mind. The parables were an application of His warning that His disciples had to be willing to give up everything. He used stark words — one must hate father, mother, wife, children and even life itself. That would have scared off most people. The word “hate” in the culture of the time meant to have no regard or inordinate concern for something.

The message was clear: real discipleship was a total commitment, and those who began that path had to put everything on the table. Following the Lord had to be absolutely at the top of one’s priorities. Few people today would be prepared or able to live up to the high standard. However, this ideal should be held in our mind’s eye to inspire us to go beyond ourselves. It is also a warning that talk can be cheap, religious talk even more so. Casual or superficial statements about following the Lord or being committed to Jesus should always be backed up with concrete actions. It is far better to set realistic goals and accomplish them than to make overblown promises that never see the light.

Discipleship is never easy, and it will be different for every person. It is an invitation to leave the comfortable and familiar and enter into service to the world and humanity. No commitment, however small, is insignificant, if made from the heart and carried through faithfully.

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