DISCERNMENT is a spiritual virtue under-appreciated in the teaching practices of the Western Church. Its roots in Scripture are deep. When Solomon became King, succeeding his father David and feeling inadequate for the task, he prayed to God this prayer for “Discernment”:
Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king instead of my father David, but I am a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. 8 And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted. 9 Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours? 1 Kings 3:7, 8, 9
The Lord heard him and the author of 1 Kings (traditionally said to be Jeremiah) reported that this is what He said:
Because you have asked this thing, and have not asked long life for yourself, nor have asked riches for yourself, nor have asked the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern justice, 12 behold, I have done according to your words; see, I have given you a wise and understanding heart, so that there has not been anyone like you before you, nor shall any like you arise after you. 1 Kings 3:11, 12
In the last book of the Christian version of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi recorded this exchange:
Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, and the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him for those who fear the Lord and who meditate on His name. 17 “They shall be Mine,” says the Lord of hosts, “On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him.” 18 Then you shall again discern between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve Him. Malachi 3:16, 17, 18
Traditional Christian teaching, based upon the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and the Epistles of St. Paul, is that discernment is a spiritual gift of God, allowing us to distinguish not only, as Malachi taught, between those who serve God and those who do not, but also between what is important and spiritual and what is earthly, transitory and often frivolous. In the New Testament Greek are two Greek words translated as discernment: diakrino [dee-ak-REE-no] and dokimazo [dok-im-AD-zo]. Both have the same meaning. In St. Luke’s account of an exchange between Jesus and a group of Pharisees and scribes seeking “signs,” Jesus used dokimazo:
Then He also said to the multitudes, “Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming’; and so it is. 55 And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather’; and there is. 56 Hypocrites! You can discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it you do not discern this time? 57 “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right? 58 When you go with your adversary to the magistrate, make every effort along the way to settle with him, lest he drag you to the judge, the judge deliver you to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite. Luke 12:54-59
St. Paul, traditionally credited as author of Hebrews, implied that discernment was not a fixed skill but one which must be used, developed, nurtured and practiced to meet the changing challenges of daily life in an anti-Christian world:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Hebrews 3:12, 13
Now faced with challenges from political, religious, financial and personal evil, the Christian virtue of Discernment should be a primary tool on Stir Up Sunday as we prepare for the coming of His Nativity and for His coming again to judge the world. The following is a 15th C. prayer from the Sarum Missal that calls upon the teachings in Psalm 35 and Psalm 80.
Stir up thy power, we pray thee, O Lord, and come: that through thy protection we may be delivered from the dangers which overhang us by reason of our sins, and through thy liberation of us we may be saved; who livest and reignest with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for evermore. Amen.