We all remember—perhaps fondly—those multiple-choice tests we had to take from time to time during our school days. If we knew our subject, we could whiz through the test and finish well below the allotted time. If we were not so knowledgeable, there was always the chance we took with an educated guess.
Those educated gambles came with many a mark we ultimately made with our number two pencil. As a many years veteran of high school teaching and a few more in colleges, my job entailed the composition of such tests. While they were easy to grade they were hard to create.
The “almost but not quite correct” answers were particularly challenging to devise. My “Track one” grade-hungry bright kids often made good arguments for their answers as opposed to the preferred one. Of course, most of the time they lost their appeal. One lesson those tests taught was the power of good decision-making. As their elder, I knew my students would inevitably have to face heftier decisions in life beyond the classroom. They would relearn that decisions have consequences.
So much of life precludes having multiple choices. Many times there is only one. A person does not have to delve too deeply into the pages of the gospels to learn that Jesus always wanted His disciples to be decisive. Today’s passage from Luke is a case in point. Jesus has, so to speak, “put all His cards on the table.” And He does so for three “wannabes” among the crowd. He tells these three persons in turn that following Him will make, in the first case, what foxes and birds have for homes will look luxurious by comparison with any of the roadside camps He will be using. He also tells two other people that His work will have to take priority even over family obligations. The latter is still true today. All of this captures the meaning of what is meant by “living by the Spirit” that St. Paul writes about to his Galatians.
Discipleship calls one to be quite decisive when opportunity comes knocking. We read this weekend about Elijah the prophet making his decision. He obeys the Lord when he throws his cloak over Elisha, making the matter of his successor closed. Obviously then, there is no place for “fence sitting” in this matter of living our lives with Jesus at the center. The old Harvey Cox quote “Not to decide is to decide” is perennial in this case as well as so many others.
Of course, not all our decisions in other areas will be wise or even welcome. Take the case of “Harry the Hunter.” Some friends who went deer hunting separated into pairs for the day. And that night one hunter returned alone, staggering under an eight-point buck. “Where’s Harry?” asked another hunter. “Oh, he fainted a couple of miles up on the trail,” Harry’s partner answered. “And you left him lying there all alone and carried the deer back?” “Yes, it was a tough call,” said the hunting partner, “but I figure no one’s going to steal Harry.”