Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 30, 2017
Ask anyone on the parish staff or anyone who sits on the Finance or Pastoral Councils, or anybody that serves on any standing or ad hoc committee of the parish, and they’ll tell you that one of the most frustrating things about my leadership -and trust me, I’m sure that there is long list of those frustrating things- but one of the most frustrating things about my leadership is that I distain voting. You see, when you vote, even if you follow “Robert’s Rules of Order Revised Edition” perfectly, voting will always have winners and losers. One side always wins and one side always loses. It’s the nature of the beast. Or, as sometimes is the case of our legislatures, nobody wins and everyone loses.
The only way around that win-lose scenario is this thing we call discernment. It is a sometimes painful, always inefficient, usually long process. It’s about sitting at the table long enough to come up with a solution that everyone can live with, something we call consensus. It’s about finding a path that may not be our first choice or even our second, but it is one we are willing to travel for the good of all, or as we say in the church, for the sake of the Kingdom. It is about searching for that “something”. That pearl that is beyond any of our personal desires and our individual wants, and just trusting all things will work for good for those who love God. Discernment, when it’s done right is a holy thing.
But not just in parishes! It is also what can happen in our own families when things get all tangled, or between good friends trying to work things out; with spouses in their attempt to get past the latest bump in the road; disputes between neighbors and divisions in communities. It’s more than figuring out who has the right of way or who holds the most power or who earns the most money. It’s about God’s Kingdom, a kingdom of which we are all a part.
I will be the first to admit that the process is not easy, hardly ever. It is bungling and clumsy and in the midst of it, we will be tempted to bargain our way out so as to have something to hold over the winner’s head the next time, or to use our power to get people to see it “our way”. It is frustrating and wearisome and it tests every bit of patience for those who are used to a “winner/loser - strongest will conquer” competitive way of life.
Solomon didn’t call it discernment; he called it an understanding heart. As a very young kid, it was all he asked of God as the weight of governing his people was placed upon his shoulders. He knew that sometimes he would have to change course, surrender his power, let go of something he wanted; he would have to choose not to take the life of the enemy. Jesus described it in a parable as finding that buried treasure in the field, a treasure so valuable that we’d sell all we have, out of joy, to buy that field. St. Paul was absolutely convinced that all things will work for the good of those who love God.
Discernment- it’s what we do when we have to work things out deep within ourselves or with others, when we have to choose colleges or what job offer to accept. It’s what we do when we try to figure out what to do with our life, choosing a path between many options; of making or sometimes breaking a commitment with another. It’s about making choices for the common good and respecting the life-story of others even though it might be very different than our own.
But given the choice between the way of Henry Martyn Robert (of Roberts’ Rules of Order), and Jesus Christ (of the Gospel of Jesus Christ), I’m putting my money on Jesus. To win, place and show.