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God's Word on Sunday: Intellect without the Spirit doomed to fail

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  • September 1, 2019

23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 8 (Year C) Wisdom 9:13-18; Psalm 90; Philemon 9b-10, 12-17; Luke 14:25-33

Humans are usually quite proud of their intelligence and intellectual achievements. 

Having respectable intellectual qualifications is believed to be the key to success in life. Children are tracked into the “right” schools from kindergarten to prestigious universities. This has helped us make great advancements in science, medicine and technology. 

On the other hand, we are buried under mountains of facts and information, but are not any the wiser for all of this. Knowledge is often not helpful — we have learned to ignore facts or even to make our own alternate facts if they do not suit our purposes. 

Amidst all this technical virtuosity and material abundance, it is evident that the world is not in good shape and people are not as happy as they should be. Our societies and institutions are coming unraveled and so much of what we have built is coming back to haunt us. Environmental collapse, social unrest, political and economic failures, violence and the threat of war are but a few examples of a deep and potentially fatal flaw in the way we think and act. 

The reading from Wisdom is right on target: The reasonings of mortals are worthless and our designs are likely to fail. Not very flattering or optimistic! What good are brains if they get us in such trouble? 

There is certainly nothing wrong with intelligence in itself, but the key to the problem is the realization that human reasoning is the culprit. This is the use of the intellect devoid of spiritual principles. 

Reasoning that is not in harmony with the divine source is always lacking something vital and doomed to ultimate failure regardless of apparent success. We are still feeling the aftershocks of the terrible political and economic regimes produced by intelligent people who were utterly lacking in spiritual integrity or harmony with the divine will. 

The intellect without the Spirit can become demonic. The same applies to theologies and religious movements that express human fears and desires rather than God’s purposes. The author of Wisdom urges humans to be guided by the Spirit sent by God into human hearts and minds. 

God’s ways are definitely not human ways. We are all called to be seekers of wisdom, which is not amassing facts or knowledge, but learning the art of living in harmony with God. 

For all of our brilliance, we often lag far behind in what it means to be an authentic and God-inspired human person.

Paul was encouraging Philemon to think in a new way. He could have punished or even executed his runaway slave Onesimus, but Paul prodded Philemon not only to forgive him, but to welcome him as a brother. Onesimus had become a Christian, so he and Philemon were supposedly brothers in Christ. 

In the new world inaugurated by Jesus, there was no slave or free, Greek or Jew, male or female. All were equal in Christ before God. The era of labeling and separating people was over — now there was one people and one God. 

Unfortunately, over the centuries people have often undone the work of God by reintroducing the old world and its way of thinking, often in theological guise. If we were to live out the implications of Christ’s message for even a day, the world would never be the same.

The demands of discipleship that Jesus taught should make us squirm. He makes it very plain that He is not speaking of just a new religion, but a new way of being a human being. 

Giving up one’s possessions does not refer only to material things, but to opinions, ways of thinking, values and being in control of one’s life. 

Jesus used some scary language to drive the point home. Disciples must hate their spouses, parents, children, friends and even their lives. On the surface, this sounds absolutely negative and nihilistic. But in the language of the time, to hate something meant to have no concern or regard for it. 

In other words, following Jesus must be number one, two and three on the list and nothing must ever get in the way of that goal. The Lord asks us to make a commitment but only one we are prepared to follow through on. Are we ready to make the sacrifices necessary to follow Him?

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