“What man can learn the counsel of God?” This is the question posed at the start of SUNDAY’S OLD TESTAMENT READING [WISDOM 9: 13 – 18b]. In a fundamental way the question is answered in TODAY’S PSALM [90 or 89]. There we read “then teach us to number our days.”

The person who has acknowledged, always remembers and takes into account the fact that he or she is not in absolute control of their life and living has learnt real wisdom which is, as the Psalm informs us, the “wisdom of heart.” It is the wisdom which clings to a person, becoming an integral element of all one’s plans and activities. It is a lesson not learnt by either of the two men specifically mentioned in TODAY’S GOSPEL [LUKE 14: 25 – 33], where we see that both the Builder of the Tower and the Warrior King because they do not acknowledge any other reality outside their own immediate desires and plans. They have it all under control …. at least they think they do!

Man proposes – God disposes! This is the basic message of the scriptures mentioned.

However, all of this does not mean that we are puppets on a string

. God is not a puppet master! We are people who enjoy God’s gift of free will. We are free to involve him in our plans – especially before these are finalised and we embark upon something foolhardy. “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it.”

If not, the person discovers what the Gospel tells us … which is proclaimed by our Psalm: you sweep them away like a dream, like grass which is fresh in the morning … by evening it withers and fades.” Here we are not faced with the Lord being contrary or, perhaps, feeling vindictive, or punishing us – but rather they are swept away because we failed to incorporate the basic ingredient (taking his counsel) from the very beginning. Fools rush in where angels fear to tread!? So, we are faced with the challenge of the Spirit’s existence – unless you have given wisdom and sent your holy Spirit from on high.”

All of us need to learn and practice the art of discernment. This involves us in taking time, speaking to God-in-Christ before planing as well as before we actually embark on the activity. Is this the best thing for us to do …. is it going to be both creative and productive of good …. are we equipped to carry it out? Sometimes we need, as the Gospel suggests, to take counsel, especially as far as the method and manner of our approach. The king in our Gospel has a choice: go to war or ask for terms of peace!

The true disciple as envisaged by Jesus in the Gospel is not expected to hate! He does, however, expect us to order our priorities. The Lord is asking, in fact expects, us to place him first in all our plans and commitments. This is the only way in which we can honestly pray the words of our Psalm – “let the favour of the Lord our God be upon us; give success to the work of our hands.” In other words we have to learn to number our days” and recognise that there does exist a basic reality which is that we do not rule, control or know everything.

In all of this it is interesting to bear in mind the more literal translation {by NICHOLAS KING, SJ} of a line from our Psalm.” for weakness comes upon us and we shall be chastened.” This presents us with a valuable approach to the builder of the tower (and any belligerent king) who does not “first sit down” and do his homework. NO HOMEWORK – OUR WEAKNESS WILL BE EXPOSED AND WE ARE CHASTENED. We do it to ourselves. God does not ‘swoop down’ and zap us!

If we take a careful look at OUR NEW TESTAMENT READING [PHILEMON 1: 9B – 10. 12 – 17] we should be able to recognise that Paul is asking Philemon to sit down and right from the start incorporate the Gospel message into his welcome of Onesimus who was a runaway slave. I am sending him back to you .. as more than a slave, as a beloved brother.”

When Philemon receives this Letter (I often wonder whether it was actually delivered by Onesimus himself?) he really has to SIT DOWN FIRST and begin evaluating what he will do with the runaway. Is he going to, as the then accepted process prescribed, ‘whack’ the slave or should he – from the very beginning – apply (as Paul craftily proposes) the Gospel norms? Will he go to war or will he accept Paul as an ambassador for God and create “terms of peace?”

Saint Paul uses the word partner!

The challenge for us is simple – to always make The Lord our PARTNER at the start of our planning.