Before deciding which of this Sunday's reading's I would share my thought's on, I came across this observation by Dr. Yoran Hazony, in his book, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture. Although he was writing within the context of the prophet Jeremiah's frustration with the obstinacy of the Jewish people's refusal to change their ways, even with the Babylonian army on the march, Hazony's remark spoke directly to me. He wrote that, "man is unique of God's creatures in that he can freely choose to value that which will gain him little or nothing, and to devote his life to its pursuit." And that thought brought me to Sirach 15:15-20:
"If you choose, you can keep the commandments
it is loyalty to do his will.
There are set before you fire and water;
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Before you are life and death
whichever he chooses shall be given him.
Immense is the wisdom of the Lord
he is mighty in power and all-seeing.
The eyes of God see all he has made;
he understands man's every deed.
No man does he command to sin;
to none does he give strength to lies."
The choice, as it is laid out by Sirach, sounds like a no-brainer. If we trust in God, we will live; we can choose between life and death, good and evil. Sounds easy enough. Then why can it be so hard for me? And why does Sirach keep pounding on the matter of choice: "If you choose (v.15)...to which you choose (v.16)...whichever he choose shall be given to him (v.17)?"
For me, free will has often been a blessing and a curse. The filmmaker/actor Jean Renoir, as a character in one of his own movies, says, "The terrible thing about life, monsieur, is that everyone has his reasons." Well, Amen to that, brother! For nearly 20 years I abused alcohol. And I was so thankful that I never hurt anyone. But I was wrong about that. I hurt my parents, embarrassed myself and gave a terrible example to others. It's amazing how I tried to deceive myself and refused to see the sadness my actions were bringing into the lives of others. I'd simply laugh it off by saying, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." Now, it reminds me of the final verse from the Book of Judges, a verse that tries to sum up the horrendous violence, depravity and death that permeated the Promised Land: "...everyone did what they thought best."(Jgs.21:25b)
I have seen the way to evil and a spiritual death, and I know the way that leads to emptiness, sadness and depression. But I am also blessed to know the way to life, to wisdom and to God. And God will not force me to take one path or the other. He trusts me. That's an empowering and a frightening thought. He has given me free will. And he knows that the way to a spiritual death can be appealing and attractive, and even a lot more fun than the path to him. And still he trusts me.
There was a hit song in the late 1960's by a British rock group, the Animals. The song was, "It's My Life and I'll do what I Want." The title encapsulated my attitude as a clueless 17-year old, and the attitude of a large segment of society then, and for many, even now. Since then I've learned the hard way, through many false roads taken, that what I do with my life, with my choices, affects many, many people, some whom I've never met. And the consequences of some of my choices have hurt people I truly love. That was a hard, but necessary lesson to learn.
Sirach is reminding me, some 2300 years after he either wrote, or recited to a scribe, that I am responsible for the choices I make, and that their consequences often reach farther than I can imagine, both for me and for others. Once asked by a reporter if he wanted to send a message to his village, Mahatma Gandhi, sitting in a train slowly departing the station, jotted on a piece of scrap paper: "My life is my message." So is mine. What message am I sending?
Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.