Dianne Bergant
Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time (C), Sept. 5, 2004
Who can conceive what the Lord intends? (Wis 9:13)

When I was much younger, I used to think that obedience was hard. Now I realize that it may be unpleasant, but I don’t think it is really hard. At least I knew then what was expected of me. Knowing which decisions to make, that is hard! This is particularly true when there are so many options from which to choose. Ours is a world characterized by multiple choices. Many young people enroll in college without having decided upon a major. Many brands of most products are on the market, all of which claim to be the best. And who can cope with more than 130 cable stations, available at the flick of the remote? Decisions, decisions, decisions! Someone, please just tell me which to choose!

 

Every society has a wisdom tradition, a treasury of insights into living that will yield success and well-being. These insights are gleaned from the experience of life itself. Thus have the wise learned which decisions to make to ensure the success and well-being cherished by their group. All of today’s readings reveal some aspect of the wisdom of our religious ancestors, a wisdom that has been handed down to us through the teachings of our faith.

The reading from the Book of Wisdom clearly describes the ambiguity human beings face. Our deliberations are timid; our plans are unsure. This is because we often make choices that do not flow from noble aspirations. We are selfish or cruel; we are arrogant or dishonest; we are ignorant and inexperienced. Our human limitations can be a burden, and we need divine guidance. But even in seeking this guidance, we can so easily be deceived by our own ego. “Who can conceive what the Lord intends?”

Both the second reading and the Gospel depict situations in which individuals are invited to make decisions. Paul asks Philemon to set aside his dominance as a slaveholder and to act in accord with the true equality established among believers through baptism. Jesus calls for the most radical decision-making. He offers his followers options: membership in society based on family ties or membership in a community of faith based on commitment to Jesus. In both instances, believers are challenged to step beyond the confines of human custom and embrace a way of life that certainly transcends human limitations.

The way of life to which believers are called may appear to be foolishness, if judged by the values of the world, but it really embodies wisdom and insight. Jesus directs us to think things through before we make our decisions. But these decisions must flow from our religious values, what the author of Wisdom calls “things [that] are in heaven.” We are called to make decisions as disciples of Jesus, not as merely foolish people caught up in the cultural values of our time.

Dianne Bergant, C.S.A., is professor of biblical studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.

Readings: 
Readings: Wis 9:13-18b; Ps 90:3-6, 12-17; Phlm 9-10, 12-17; Lk 14:24-33
Prayer: 

 

  • To what extent does your faith influence the way you make decisions in your personal life? In your social life? In your life as a citizen of the country?

     

  • Are you resentful when others seem to avoid just punishment? Does this flow from a sense of justice or from envy?

     

  • Pray today's psalm slowly and thoughtfully, making its religious sentiments your own.