The Strange Prudence of the Kingdom

The Gospel two days ago insists on the strangeness of supernatural prudence.

Jesus adduces two examples of worldly prudence in Luke 14. If you build a tower, you've got to make sure you have the financing to see the project through. And if you're going into battle, you need to make sure there's a reasonable chance for victory:

"Or what king marching into battle would not first sit down and decide whether with ten thousand troops he can successfully oppose another king advancing upon him with twenty thousand troops? But if not, while he is still far away, he will send a delegation to ask for peace terms."

His conclusion from these examples? "In the same way, everyone of you who does not renounce all his possessions cannot be My disciple."

Huh. On the one hand, it makes sense to run the numbers to carry out worldly projects; on the other hand, the lesson to be drawn from that fact is that we should renounce the basis for worldly success. Strange prudence.

The fairly straightforward examples of secular prudence are somehow meant to elucidate the extreme logic of the prudence proper to the Kingdom of God. Jesus cites the cases of the tower and the armies as proof of the good sense of the radical, total demands of Christian discipleship:

"If anyone comes to Me without hating his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple."

Here we are up against the great question of how nature and grace relate. It's not straightforward. Prudence on earth: count the cost. Prudence with regard to the big picture: don't count the cost.

The logic of the world is a logic of scarcity and appropriation. The logic of the Kingdom is a logic of gratuity. The only way to play the game of gratuity is to renounce one's claim on the world, receiving temporal goods solely from the hands of the gracious God.

Grace does indeed perfect nature. But the historical enactment of sanctification, the Kingdom growing in this world, is not a matter of simple organic development. It is a matter of revolution--a revolution, though, true to the truth of the world.

There is indeed a relative autonomy to the prudence of this world. But the supernatural whole encompassing that relative autonomy is uncanny. The prudent thing (prudence being learned from worldly experience) to do when it comes to the big picture is to be a holy fool, to be most imprudent in the eyes of the world: acknowledging the Lordship of Jesus above every other attachment; taking to one's heart the suffering of life; and renouncing all mastery over material goods or anything else one would call "mine." This is the strange truth of prudence.

In continuity with, and yet a surprising reversal of, the calculus of the world, supernatural prudence is anything but clerk-like. It is fire. Docile to the Spirit of truth and of ever-greater love, it directs the revolution of the coming Kingdom.