Monday, March 03, 2014

You Get What You Choose

Consider, today, the book of Sirach [1]. This book was written in Hebrew by Jesus Ben Sira, a wise Jewish teacher, almost two hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Savior. It was later translated into Greek by his grandson. It is in the group of Bible books called Wisdom books. Chapter 15 verses 11 to 20 are his lecture notes on “free will”.

First he paints a picture that we are all familiar with from our childhood. Imagine that you are standing  before two pots. One contains a roaring fire and the other filled water. Now you are told to choose which pot to plunge your hand into. Even as children you knew that you get what you choose. One choice gives me a burned hand while the other choice gives me a clean hand.

Ben Sira then moves to a more adult choosing:
You have before you life and death, good and evil.
Whichever you choose, God will give to you.

As adults we realize that life is more complex than just hot or cold choices and we understand the examples like Jesus uses. If we plant weed seeds we are going to harvest weeds whereas if we plant  grain seeds we are going to harvest grain.

Grain or Weeds, Good Seed or Bad Seed you choose!
Life or Death, Good or Evil, You choose!

Ben Sira tells us that God never forces anyone to choose weeds, bad seed, death or evil. You see, God made us free. Free to choose good or evil. He honors our freedom and gives us many ways to discern what is good and what is evil. Jesus talked about this when he came among us.

Ben Sira makes his point in another way when he says that God grants no one a license to choose evil.

A few years ago I ran into an example of secular thinking that contradicts this. It has to do with a virtue and its opposite vice. That pair is the virtue Love and the vice Lust [2]. A virtue desires good and a vice desires evil.

I had been asked to speak at a non-Catholic wedding and in my talk I made the point that a successful marriage required that it be based on love and not on lust because lust was in fact the opposite of love. Now I knew that some of the guests present, unlike the bride and groom, had never thought this through. So I made sure to define the terms.

Love, the love required for a successful marriage, is self sacrificing love. You value the other for who she or he is, not what he or she can give you and you would even give your life for her or him.

Lust, is seeking self gratification in the form of pleasure, status, power or money and the other is viewed as an object from which these can taken.

At the reception the Justice of the Peace who had officiated approached me and objected to my talk on this very point. His view was that marriage was a license (by the state) to make lust between these two persons legal.

You most likely have heard this view even in your own community. Perhaps some of you have even thought this might be the way it is. Ben Sira and Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, however, make it clear that no one and no license will ever make evil into a virtue. 

  1. Also Known as Ecclesiasticus. It was excluded from the Protestant Old Testament because it was thought to not have been written in Hebrew. Later research has established that it had been written in Hebrew and later translated into Greek as part of the Septuagint Old Testament which was used as scripture by the Apostles and early Christian writers. The NABRE translation of this book can be read here.

  2. Pope John Paul, in his September 10, 1980 audience, spoke of the contradiction between lustful desire and self giving love. See: Translation by Micheal Waldstein: Man and Woman: He Created Them, 2006, Daughter of St Paul , Boston Ma.

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