Brief synopsis of the readings:From the Old Testament book of Wisdom we read that none of us can know God’s intentions. “It is hard enough for us to work out what is on earth…who, then, can discover what is in the heavens?” Only through the gift of Wisdom can we be saved. In Luke’s Gospel Jesus begins with something shocking: “If any man comes to me without hating his father, mother, wife, and children, yes and his own very life too, he cannot be my disciple.” He goes on to say that nobody would build a tower without making certain he can afford it. Again, a king will not march into battle without knowing he would win.
I grew up in a place where Catholics were in the minority: most were Protestant and some of them described themselves as “fundamentalists.” They told me that everything in the Bible is true on every level: spiritual, factual, historical. You do what you’re told to do and don’t do what is forbidden. To them I ask this question: how do you square Jesus’ command to hate our parents with the 4th Commandment to honor our parents.
Clearly here Jesus is using hyperbole, exaggerating to make a point. And it’s a point that has come up a few times in the last few weeks: following Jesus means choosing Jesus over all. Over those who hate us, but also those friendship we desire, and even those we love. And it means making a commitment when we don’t know the path ahead.
When I used to do weddings I found it amusing that the couple would vow to be there for each other “in sickness and in health, in good times and bad, for richer for poorer” etc. Even then I recognized that they had absolutely no idea what what they were promising. They saw a future where they would work in their field, raise children, and retire in health. My amusement went on steroids when I began to work as a hospice chaplain and watched husbands and wives care for each other in quiet heroism because of a promise they made 60 years earlier. They honored a vow they came to understand only recently.
Truthfully, we all make promises where we can’t fully know how we’ll fulfill them. On some level we need to understand that we need our faithfulness in God when we make those promises.
And I think that’s the heart of Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel. He talks about someone who plans to build a tower he claims that nobody would build it without enough money. But today that doesn’t make sense. Today, overwhelmingly, we purchase homes, cars, and other items on credit. We trust that in the next 2, 8, or 30 years we’ll be earn enough money to pay off our debt. I well remember that moment in 1998 when I signed a document where I promised to pay a substantial percentage of our income each month to purchase our home. I knew that we lived in a home that wasn’t fully ours.
I wasn’t foolish and most of the time I knew that our trust served us well. But sometimes it doesn’t. Here in the United States, those who (like us) purchased a home in 2001 did well. Interest rates were low and neither of us feared losing our jobs. Many who bought in 2007 or 2008 fared poorly because they lost their jobs and found that their mortgage payments were out of reach and their interest rates made restructuring their loans impossible.
The same Gospel goes on to talk about a king who wishes to go to war against another king and has to decide if he’ll win. Again, this doesn’t fit with our reality. Nearly 250 years ago, in a land we now call the United States, a small band who called themselves the “Sons of Liberty” declared independence from the British Empire. They were outnumbered, outgunned, and (frankly) insane. Their victory a few years later spoke not to their intelligence but instead to their determination.
We talk all the time about constants and variables. We try to base our decisions on what will change and what will not. But in the end, our only constant is God.
When I was a priest I used to hear confessions. It was a gift for me and I wish everyone had my opportunity. The sacrament of Reconciliation gave me the opportunity to listen to men, women, and children at their most vulnerable. They told me when they had failed, when they had missed the mark, when they had not lived up to God’s hopes for them. Time and again I asked them to pray for wisdom, for the ability to react to a situation in real time the same way they would have reacted had they had time to think it through.
These readings speak to the fact that we can never take control of the variables in our lives. We can’t predict the future, we can’t know the road ahead of us, and we can’t control what will happen to us. But we can look beyond human variables and cling to God’s wisdom. We can recognize that the words in today’s first reading can guide our lives if we let them.
It’s easy for us to recognize that we live in a world of variables, and we can allow that fact to guide us into reckless decisions or drive us into a paralyzing fear. We can fear the future of home interest rates, and we can fear the consequences of demanding justice.
Or we can recognize that God’s wisdom allows us to choose the right thing regardless of what we face. Maybe we will run into mortgage hardships, and maybe we won’t win the war. But God’s wisdom promises that our lives, and our world, will have a happy ending. We are promised this: “As for your intention, who could have learned it, had [God] not granted Wisdom.” And “the paths of those on earth been straightened and [we have] been taught what pleases you, and saved, by Wisdom.”
Let us pray for wisdom.