Dr. Phil is an American TV personality. He does have a degree in psychology, but he is not licensed to practice in any of the fifty states. This does not stop Dr. Phil. He has made a fortune by giving advice to anyone who would listen. I think he is successful, because his approach is blunt and no nonsense. One of his favorite sayings questions a person’s judgment by asking “How is that working for you?” I saw an interview in which a woman confided in him that about twice a month her husband became drunk and would beat her up. Her plan was to become an even better and more docile wife, hoping he would stop drinking. Dr. Phil said, “How’s that working for you?” And, of course, it was not working at all. That is why she was talking to Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil’s approach is to state the obvious. What is obvious to us is that often we make bad choices and make them over and over again.
Today’s First Reading from the Book of Sirach would appreciate Dr. Phil’s method. It lays out our moral choices in a blunt, no nonsense way. It says our choices are good or evil, life or death, water or fire. We can choose any one. But if we choose evil, we should not be shocked to find we are unhappy. If we put our hand into the fire, we should not be surprised that it is burnt. Sirach is telling us that God’s commands are not an arbitrary set of rules to test our obedience. God’s commands are the way to life. If we follow them, we will be happy. If we choose something else, it will harm us.
You and I have made choices that have harmed us. We know that Jesus tells us to serve others, especially those who are poor or in need. Therefore, we should be people of generosity who give to others out of what we have received. We have received a lot, enough to make a difference. Yet what we choose is to sit in front of the TV or computer screen and fritter our time away. Our life becomes smaller and smaller. It takes on an emptiness. We ask, “Why does my life have so little meaning?”
We know that Jesus tells us that all people have value and that everyone deserves our respect. Yet we choose prejudice, believing that some people are more valuable than others. We tell jokes or stories that demean a group because of their race, religion, or sexual orientation. For a while, it feels good to feel superior. But over time our choice of prejudice hardens us. In refusing respect for any part of humanity we reduce our ability to love the people we want to love.
Every time we choose selfishness or prejudice Jesus is at our side saying, “How’s that working out for you? Is it making you happy? Is it leading to life? If not, it might be time for a change.” God sets before us life and death, water and fire. The call of the scriptures today is to choose life instead of death, to put our hand in the water not the fire. If the choices we are making are not working, it is time to make another choice.