Decide to decide

Pencil Preaching for Wednesday, September 18, 2019

“Wisdom is vindicated by all her children” (Luke 7:35).

In today’s Gospel, Luke captures Jesus’ frustration in trying to preach to the crowds and to his critics. His challenge to act decisively in accepting God’s invitation to enter the Kingdom is met not with a direct response one way of the other but with the refusal to respond at all.  They can’t decide. They did not accept John’s radical call to justice because it was too demanding, and they would not accept Jesus’ radical call to mercy because it seemed too lenient, too easy.

Jesus compares them to children in the marketplace quarreling over whether to play a happy game or a sad one.  “We played he flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.”  The only game they will play is to resist each other’s suggestions. As the bus poster says: “Not to decide is to decide.”

It is a familiar strategy in politics.  Debate endlessly but never decide. Blame each other for the stalemate.  Delay action and avoid concessions or compromises. The goal is to appear to support something but never have to vote on it in case it can be used against you in the next election.  Stay on the fence, claim both sides without ever having to commit to anything.

Jesus concludes his critique with what appears to be a saying that contains a powerful reminder the nature of wisdom.  To live in this world we have to make decisions.  A wise person is not someone who remains aloof from difficult questions or never risks decisions that have costs. Wisdom is about considering every aspect of a dilemma, but then making a decision.  The process of moral decision making includes three stages: think, judge and act.  In the end, a wise person acts. The virtue of prudence leads to action and not paralysis.

Wisdom is an ongoing process.  If we make the best decision we can and it turns out to be wrong, we then take our mistakes into the next round of analysis, learn from them and try again.  Real dialogue leads to compromise and putting the common good ahead of winning or losing.  Real negotiation requires maturity and courage, and it is often much quieter and more effective than childish quarreling or grandstanding.  

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