There are schools of thought, even religious ones, that deny our freedom or ability to choose what is right. They are eager to blame our environment, genetic makeup, family history, economic conditions or even some sort of preordained divine plan for human evil and sin.
While many of these factors unquestionably have an influence, we are not determined by any of them. Sirach insisted that we always have a choice. Not only can we choose, but we can obey the commandments. We have two paths placed before us, life and death. We are free to choose either one, but we will walk the path we choose and reap the consequences.
This “two-ways” theology is a constant theme in the biblical tradition, being found especially in Deuteronomy, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Gospel of John and some of Paul’s letters. Sirach’s basic message is yes, you can do it, and above all, don’t make excuses.
We will not walk this path perfectly, but when we fail, we ask forgiveness and continue moving forward. We should not delude ourselves or others by claiming that by sinning we are obeying God’s will or acting with God’s permission.
People tend to privatize the “way of life,” but the biblical record is clear that there is far more to walking this path than our personal salvation. The ways of life and death are not primarily about Heaven or hell, but the world that we create for ourselves.
The way of life enables humans and their societies to flourish and give life. Walking this path means exercising mercy, compassion and generosity, as well as easing the burdens of others, especially the poor, weak and vulnerable.
The way of death is well travelled. It is characterized by fear, selfishness, indifference, injustice and violence. This path creates a living hell on Earth. Our world becomes a place where the divine life in people is snuffed out and the comfort of a few is bought at the price of misery for many.
This is the path we are in grave danger of choosing. We are free as individuals and groups to choose. In 2017 and beyond, which path will the world take?
Paul contrasts human wisdom with the wisdom of God, and they have little to do with one another. If they did, Paul insisted, the rulers of this world would have understood the situation and would not have crucified the Lord. That is the problem. Throughout history, humans do things their own way, even while insisting they are obeying the will of God.
If we understood God’s wisdom, we would not create a world so violent and unjust. God’s wisdom is of a different order altogether and we receive it through the Spirit. Only then can we truly understand why we are here and what our responsibilities are to others, to Creation and to God.
Many people wrongly assume Jesus abolished the Jewish Law. On the contrary, Matthew’s Jesus made it very clear that not only was the Law still in force, the bar had been raised considerably. In explaining this hyper-righteousness, Jesus unpacked what choosing the path of life means.
It is not enough not to murder, even though that would be a good step in the right direction! We need to go to the core of all problems — our own inner self, complete with all its fears, wounds and hatreds. Root out murderous thoughts and words for they deface the divine image and create a negative environment. Do not harbour resentment in your hearts towards anyone — forgive as you would want to be forgiven.
Treat relationships, especially marriage, with reverence, rather than an arrangement of convenience. Don’t cheapen the power and integrity of your words with false speech — always be known as one who is truthful and reliable.
These tools of the kingdom are but a few of the dimensions of the path of life. They are intended for all, not just a spiritual elite. We will enjoy a new Earth to the extent that we choose to use them.