Thursday, April 21, 2011

Making Choices

If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.      --  John 13:17

Jesus has just washed the feet of his disciples, in order to show them how to serve each other with love and humility.  But it is this last sentence that fascinates me today.  Jesus does not say, If you know these things you are blessed.  He says, You are blessed if you do them.  Knowing what is right and good is not enough.  Doing is more important.

This passage first made me think about my youngest son.  He has gotten into a lot of trouble lately in his Kindergarten class.  My sweet-natured little boy has suddenly become a hoodlum:  stealing school supplies, lying about it, deliberately ignoring his teachers' requests.  He has gotten into so much trouble in the last two weeks, that he is having to earn his privileges on a daily basis -- something my other two boys never had to do.  He knows what is right, but he is choosing to do what is wrong.  My husband and I hope he will soon learn that making good choices leads to a happier life.

Then this message was repeated as I drove to and from work today.  I was listening to a commentary on St. Augustine's Confessions.  Augustine's journey of faith encourages me.  Written 1500 years ago, it still offers many insights into the world today.  I am especially appreciative of Augustine's struggle to follow God's will.  I too am struggling to follow God's will.  I'm pretty sure of what God wants me to do, but I am waffling about doing it.

Today the lecturer described how Augustine first had to have a conversion of intellect.  He had to understand the validity of Christianity.  Then, he needed to have a conversion of will:  to choose God's way over the world's way.  (The Teaching Company, 2004, Prof. Cook and Prof. Herzman, Lecture 14)

Augustine comes to God late in life.  His journey of faith begins when he reads a book by Cicero, a pagan philosopher.  Cicero so highly praises the study of philosophy as the key to happiness that Augustine starts to seek wisdom.  He tries to read the Bible, but finds it hard to understand.  The Manichean sect, however, proclaims to have all the answers.  Their certainty is very appealing to Augustine, until he sees that some of their answers don't quite fit.  The Platonists (or Neo-Platonists) offer better answers.  From them he finds gems of understanding, but still, something is missing.  God is missing.  The Platonist are limited to what is visible only.  They are like the scientists of today.
After about 10 years of searching, Augustine again tries to read the Bible.  This time, he gets it.  God is there in all his mystery.  Paul's description of charity and love inspires him.  He sees the truth of the teachings of Jesus.  He becomes convinced of the validity of Christianity.  But, his conversion is of the intellect only.  Although, he knows the way of Jesus is right, he cannot will himself to do it.  He feels pulled in the opposite direction all the time -- even though this direction doesn't satisfy him.  Only when he chooses to follow God's will for him, does he finally find lasting happiness.

Knowing what is right is not enough.  Jesus preached the same message as the Hebrew prophets.  What we needed was an example, someone to show us how.  Jesus showed us how, and asked us to do the same.

Dear and Glorious Lord, I hear you.  I am getting closer.  And, thank you for Jesus, whose example continues to teach me what I need to do.  Love always, Pam

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