Thursday, February 18, 2010

I Have Set Before You Life And Death, Blessing And Curse. Choose Life!

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Reading I
Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Moses said to the people:
“Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
If you obey the commandments
of the LORD, your God,
which I enjoin on you today,
loving him, and walking in his ways,
and keeping his commandments,
statutes and decrees,
you will live and grow numerous,
and the LORD, your God, will bless you
in the land you are entering to occupy.
If, however, you turn away your hearts
and will not listen, but are led astray
and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish;
you will not have a long life on the land
that you are crossing the Jordan
to enter and occupy.
I call heaven and earth today
to witness against you:
I have set before you life and death,
the blessing and the curse.
Choose life, then,
that you and your descendants may live,
by loving the LORD, your God,
heeding his voice, and holding fast to him.
For that will mean life for you,
a long life for you to live
on the land that the LORD swore
he would give to your fathers
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 1
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
He is like a tree
planted near running water,
That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Not so the wicked, not so;
they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
For the LORD watches over the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked vanishes.
Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Luke 9:22-25
Jesus said to his disciples:
“The Son of Man must suffer greatly
and be rejected by the elders,
the chief priests, and the scribes,
and be killed and on the third day be raised.”
Then he said to all,
“If anyone wishes to come after me,
he must deny himself
and take up his cross daily
and follow me.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it,
but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.
What profit is there
for one to gain the whole world
yet lose or forfeit himself?”

The readings today offer a clear choice between the way of death and the way of life.

The First Reading comes from near the end of the Book of Deuteronomy just before it relates the last actions and the death of Moses. It is in a section known as the ‘Third Discourse’, that is, a third discourse attributed to Moses. Only Deuteronomy speaks of a covenant made in Moab, an area to the east of the Dead Sea and the last territory which the Israelites passed through on the way to the Promised Land. It is complementary to that made at Horeb, where the Decalogue was given to Moses.

Today’s reading offers a choice between life and death. “I set before you life or death, blessing or curse.” Life is to be found by totally accepting the way of life that God proposes, “if you love the Lord and follow his ways”.

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you: I am offering you life or death… Choose life…” In other covenants outside that of the Old Testament, it was common to name a list of gods who served as ‘witnesses’ to its contents. The covenant between Yahweh and his people was witnessed by both heaven and earth.

The way to life that God offers is not one that much of the world proposes. In fact the world sees God’s ways as limiting when, in fact, if properly understood, they are truly liberating. The life that God offers is not freedom to indulge in every desire and pleasure - pursuit of wealth, uninhibited sex, indulgence in drugs, legal and illegal, prescribed or non-prescribed… Day after day people’s lives are being destroyed by these things.

Life, now and in the future, consists in hearing, assimilating and living out the way of life that God proposes. Today, God offers us the clear choice between life and death. He leaves the choice up to us.

Today's gospel reading is also about death and life. It begins with Jesus foretelling what is going to happen to him. Intense physical suffering, mental suffering through total rejection by the leaders of his own people, and a brutal execution. But all will lead to resurrection and a new life that can never be taken away.

Jesus goes on to say that anyone who wants to be one of his followers must be prepared to walk the same path, carrying their cross after Jesus. Perhaps we should emphasise that we are to carry our cross which will be different from the cross of Jesus and from that of other people. And Luke adds that it is something we must be prepared to do every day.

Of course, it is a call which goes against many of our normal instincts. Renouncing self goes against our desire to advance ourselves in the eyes of others. Who does not want to preserve their life? Self-preservation is a deep instinct. But self-preservation is not the same as self-advancement. Jesus is saying that a life spent focused only on ourselves and our self-advancement is ultimately a recipe for self-destruction. We are bound to be disappointed.

The only way to live is, like Jesus, to offer our lives for the benefit of others in love, in caring, in solidarity, in compassion, in justice. This is the only way truly to find ourselves and to come out winners. What is the good of winning the whole world - becoming incredibly rich and famous - and to lose one’s integrity, one’s self-respect, one’s dignity as a person, one’s happiness?

Our world - Christian and otherwise - is covered with statues and images of people who gave their lives for others, for causes and values greater than themselves. They are our heroes and our models.
And first among them is Jesus, dying in apparent failure and ignominy on the cross. We now see that cross as a victorious symbol of the greatest love that one can show for brothers and sisters.


Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Thank you for this post. There is much of instruction here.

Sarah in the tent said...

When I first read this passage, I wondered how Our Lord could refer to the specific manner of his death before it had happened, and be understood by his audience. Then I heard about a Jewish revolt against the Romans that had happened when Jesus was a child. Large numbers of rebels had been captured, marched through their towns carrying crosses, and crucified as an example. These events would have been seared on the memories of Our Lord's audience. Maybe He had also witnessed them.

Fr. John L. Sullivan said...

Sarah, though it is possible that Jesus witnessed some action taken by the Romans against rebels, the first such event of the scope you describe happened in the years 66-70 of the current era (or, as we would say 66-70 AD).

But there is another reason why Jesus would have knowledge of the manner of his death, even long before it occured: Not only does Jesus share the human nature of his mother, he also participates fully, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit, in divine nature. As the Second Person of the Trinity, he knows the entire story of the creation and the redemption of the human race in the "eternal present".