a Sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of
the leading Pharisees, and the people there were
observing him carefully. In front of him there was a
man suffering from dropsy. Jesus spoke to the
scholars of the law and Pharisees in reply, asking,
“Is it lawful to cure on the Sabbath or not?” But
they kept silent; so he took the man and, after he
had healed him, dismissed him. Then he said to them
“Who among you, if your son or ox falls into a
cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the
Sabbath day?” But they were unable to answer his
(Saint Luke 14:1-6)
they kept silent ....”
the scholars of the Law
concede that they would pull out their son or their ox (which, of
course, they would), then they acknowledge that they would be willing
to break the Law — albeit for a good.
If they do not concede that they would pull their son or
ox out, then they are liars.
There is no middle way — as we find so often in the teachings,
and always in the most important teachings, of Jesus Christ.
It is not that a “middle way”
is denied us — there is no “middle way” to be
denied of us.
To the Scholars, the Law was an inexpungable good. To pull a man
or an animal out of a pit is also an undeniable and necessary good.
But if you do the second you violate the first.
Just as you cannot choose between two evils without
incurring sin, it would appear, at least in this confrontation
between Jesus and the Scholars of the Law, that you equally cannot
choose between two goods without incurring sin.
Something is wrong, and they know it, so they are quiet.
Quite an enigma, yes?
Do not be hasty in dealing harshly with them. How would you
answer? In fact, how do you answer this nearly every day?
You do. In your choices.
You must choose. You cannot, not choose. In
not choosing you know that you have already made a choice,
but have only pretended to have no complicity in the consequences
of that choice.
There is no Middle Way
Most of our moral choices, in the end, are rarely choices between
good and evil, between what very clearly presents itself as either
indefeasibly good or irredeemably evil.
In fact, we never knowingly choose what is evil
for us, what is harmful to us (even the suicide thinks that
he is doing a good: hoping to escape the pain of this life in the
hope of a better one, or no life at all.)
In essence, it is not in our metaphysical and moral constitution
to willingly choose irredeemable evil.
But we are clever, and still look for a path that spurs off the
road, and circumvents the choice, a path that will not compel us
to call good, “good” and evil, “evil.” We wish to prove, to justify,
ourselves, our cleverness to God. So perverse is this impulse that
we are prepared to deliberately choose evil in order to
assert our autonomy from God, our independence from any binding
However, even to consciously choose something that is
evil, “as evil”, is ineluctably to choose a good:
the good of autonomy, of freely choosing — the perceived
good of positing, of proving, that such choices held to be impossible,
are, in fact, possible after all, through the exercise of the will.
This ultimately spurious “overcoming” of the impossible
is perceived, pursued, as a good, however intrinsically evil the
consequences are upon having attained it, for even the “perceived”
good of the achievement will not exceed the very real evil that
it necessarily entails. It is, in the end, a factitious effort to
translate evil into good.
We are very clever at concealing this from ourselves, at explaining
away our sinful choices. The fact of the matter is that real moral
decisions involve competing goods apart
from glaring contrasts in light and darkness. We always construe
our poor choices as, in some way, good, as beneficial, to us. If
we follow the skein, it will always lead to the presumption
of a good.
And now you are quiet, too, like the Scholars of the Law. And for
the same reason.
Every day you are confronted with competing goods between which
you must choose — and for all your subtleties and equivocating,
you ultimately do choose.
But do you choose well and wisely? In choosing one good, you forsake
another. Fidelity is a good. So is sexual pleasure.
How do you choose? Both are good and both are incompatible (except
in marriage — for those of you who are quibblers).
Ultimately the answer does not depend on which
you choose — but on what you choose —
really, on what you have already chosen. For in choosing
the WHAT, you will immediately and concomitantly
choose the how.
Your choices are only two: yourself ... or God. There are no
other choices. Every other nuance of choice is just an inflection
of the one or the other.
Which you choose will depend on
what you have already chosen.
“Which would I choose?” — or “Which would
God have me choose?”
You will immediately utter the latter if you have already
chosen God — and the “which” that you choose will follow
The Scholars of the Law knew this, too, and were silent because
they cherished what they wished to keep and what God wished them
to surrender. In this sense, it was a deadly silence ...
that ultimately became a deafening silence.
Choose God, then. In all things. At all times.
Everything else will follow.
Geoffrey K. Mondello
Boston Catholic Journal
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opera tua ... quia modicum habes virtutem, et servasti
verbum Meum, nec non negasti Nomen Meum”
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you have kept My word, and have not denied My Name.”
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