Ninth Sunday Ordinary Time March 6, 2011 – A Test of Wills
Deuternomy 11:18, 26-28, 32, Psalm 31:2-4, 17, 25, Romans 3:21-25,28, Matthew 7:21-27
A little over two years ago the nation, maybe the world, was captivated by the way Captain Chesley Sullenberger landed that airplane in the Hudson River. The event centered on the pilot’s ability to make decisions instinctively. Can you imagine if he had to open a flight regulation book before deciding what to do? Most of you may remember what he said afterwards, “Everything I had done in my career had in some way been a preparation for that moment.” 
The sermon on the mount which we have been listening to for the last few weeks offers us a blueprint for making decisions in our lives. We first heard the beatitudes. Many of you shared your own versions right here in church. Today, the end of that sermon adds another provocative layer — the one who does the will of God will enter the kingdom of heaven.
The reading from Deuteronomy is even more severe; follow God’s commands and you will be blessed; ignore them and you will be cursed. This language can make even the most faithful Christians shake in their boots. The scripture texts this morning prompt a very good question: how do we use our free will to make decisions in our lives and how do these decisions measure up to what is traditionally called God’s will? For some, this may not even be a question. Many are so busy with day to day concerns we often do not think about God’s will.
The philosophers at the time of Jesus tended to think in terms of dualities — blessed or cursed, this way or that way, right or wrong. There was little if any wiggle room and adherence to laws was considered imperative. Jesus was most likely aware of this understanding when he offered a new way of living. The author of the second reading wrote that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Modern research about our brain, e.g., the field of neuroscience, tells us that we are more complex humans; that we make decisions based on many resources — our bodies, our minds, our hearts as well as our life experiences.
Jonah Lehrer in his book on How We Decide wrote, “All decisions are made in the context of the real world.”  We cannot discern the will or presence of God in isolation. Further, mysteriously and unconsciously, our imaginations, our emotions guide us in the decisions we make about the will of God for ourselves and for others. 
Of course, the potential for making bad decisions is always there. We do need one another in trying to make the best decisions. We need a good self image to make choices with confidence.
Nevertheless, God’s will, as it is called, is no big secret. It is already outlined for us in many sacred texts. “Listening to and acting on those words” (Matthew 7:24) is an essential part of our decision making. Scripture scholar Reginald Fuller adds another step. Once we buy into and accept what Jesus taught us and did for us “its effects must be shown forth, not in charismatic achievements or in observance of the minutiae of the rabbinic law, but in works of love and mercy.”  This is where God’s will is found.
How do we go about it? Here is what some of those who responded to my blog said about the will of God. One person wrote — just listen. This can be a challenge for those who are constantly on the go, who do not have time to be still. Another wrote about feeling God’s presence in times of trouble and doubt. It’s a voice in my head, that person said. Another replied, we are already in God’s kin-dom; so everything we do is based on love; it gets lived out in acts of justice, peace, caring for the world and one another. Someone quoted St. Ignatius who thought God’s will was exactly each person’s deepest desire or passion.
The pilots that glided that plane into the Hudson River did so by using instincts based on years of experience. In those moments all they wanted to do was survive. Their journey was interrupted. Our journeys with God can meet obstacles as well. The main thing is that we see ourselves as passionate companions with God focussed on helping one another survive.
The season of Lent can be a good time to match the choices we make with what we understand to be the will of God. If we take time to listen and watch over the next few weeks we might discover we are already doing the right thing. If not, then we have some work to do.
2 Lehrer, Jonah. How We Decide. (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) 2009 xvi-xvii
3 McBrien, Richard. “Discernment and Spiritual Direction” in Catholicism (Minneapolis: Winston Press) 1981, 1089
4 Reginald H. Fuller and Daniel Westberg. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today. Liturgical Press. 2006 (Third Edition), 136-139