If we read between the lines of both the OLD TESTAMENT [SIRACH 15: 15 – 20] {Sirach may appear as ECCLESIASTICUS in your Bible} and THE GOSPEL [MATTHEW 5: 17 – 21] READINGS we may well discern the challenge presented as being that of CHOICE. The word choice is deliberately emphasised because the disciple is not called to decide but to make choices. There is a very basic difference between choice and decision! By way of simple illustrations ……… too many people decide to marry without choosing marriage as a way of life (and the same could be said about a man who ‘decides’ to become a priest without choosing priesthood) – – – then discern the difference between deciding, on a Sunday, ‘to go to Mass’ and choosing to participate in the Sunday Eucharist.

As this second illustration was typed, a thought came to mind that recently Pope Francis spoke about marginalising ourselves …. in other words, placing ourselves on the peripheries of discipleship and the practice Christian-Catholic values.

Today’s Gospel extract makes it abundantly clear that the Commandments (of Scripture or Church!) are the minimal boundaries while much more is involved in the heart of Gospel values and practice. We cannot survive for any extended period merely on the margins – and it is very easy to place ourselves there on a permanent basis. Jesus speaks about not abolishing but

FULFILLING. The Lord, on a number of occasions in the extract, refers to the minimum with the words you have heard that it was said …. but I say to you.”

Finally, the Gospel verses simplify and clarify the difference between choice and decision by presenting us with the real challenge of Jesus in the words: Let what you say be simply, ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. A choice is one or the other. A decision all too often means a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ depending on the circumstances, my mood, business, or sudden alternatives! Choice is about commitment. Decision focusses on the manner of executing the choice.

It is interesting to note that the Old Testament extract provides the illustrations of what are placed before us – “fire and water ….. life and death ….. good and evil, and whichever he chooses will be given to him.” In other words, destiny is on our own hands. We are not puppets on a string. We are free to choose. God does not stand in our way by force or pressure. The Christian God does not ‘give’ us death or evil. He hopes (even desires) that we will make the correct choices, and his friendship (his grace!) Is there to assist us, but the choice remains our own. See the closing words of the Old Testament reading: He has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and he has not given any one permission to sin.”

Is the key to the puzzle not to be found in the opening words of the Psalm? “If you will, you can keep the commandments … if you trust in God, you too shall live?” Choice is a matter of the will. Decision is always marginal. In addition, the choices we make must always involve the fundamental need to

TRUST THAT GOD-IN-CHRIST IS ALWAYS AT OUR SIDE IN THE LIVING OUT OF OUR CHOICE.

TODAY’S PSALM [119 or 118]

adds a richness to what has been said so far. Mention is made that they who walk in the law of the Lord are blessed, (happy!). BUT we need to remember that the law of the Lord has been amplified by Jesus, and for the Christian now includes much more than the minimal boundaries of behaviour. The Psalm ends by speaking of the need to “observe it wholeheartedly.” Then, and only then, do we begin to recognise “the wonder of your law.” The Gospel reading’s “iota and dot” always indicate the boundaries of behaviour but it is possible for us to ‘behave ourselves properly’ without being really committed to the wider issues of choosing to integrate ourselves into a permanent pattern of living. We can decide to behave ourselves in certain circumstances or surroundings without LIVING OUR LIVES in a specific manner.

In a strange way, almost by accident, OUR NEW TESTAMENT EXTRACT [1 CORINTHIANS 2: 6 – 10] provides us with a further key to the challenge (and difficulties) of making choices instead of decisions. Saint Paul speaks to us about the wisdom of God whichGod has revealed to us through the Spirit.” Then, he adds that the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.”

Our choices demand that we search with the Spirit in everything we choose to do, and the approaches we adopt. I suppose this is the real meaning of discernment. We have to open ourselves to discover the best ways of growing far beyond the iota and dot. There is a wisdom in God’s gift of free will to us. We can choose to observe wholeheartedly. Otherwise, we end up being puppets on the strings of our decisions.