Today is all about choices. We are faced with all kinds of choices every day. Some are not that important but others are. Some of the choices we make affect the rest of our lives. These things can have a critical impact on the direction of our lives. A famous philosopher once said: "We are our choices." Today’s Old Testament reading is also all about choices in life. It is about the roads in life we take and the ones that God wants us to take. The people of Israel had just spent 40 years as nomads in the desert. An entire generation had passed away and now Moses is confronted with a new generation. They were preparing to enter the promised land of Canaan. They had left behind the slavery of Egypt and they were looking forward to a new land, that God had promised them. In their long journey in the wilderness, several important events had occurred. In the wilderness, they were reminded that they were God's covenant people, reminded that God had chosen them by His grace. At that time, the next major step in Israel’s faith journey was their entry into the promised land. The entire book of Deuteronomy is focused on this one special event.
Moses gave a last sermon to the people, which was his farewell speech. He told them:
Today, I’m giving you a choice – a choice between good and evil, between life and death, between blessing and cursing. God is my witness. I say to you: Choose life. Choose life. Love the Lord your God with heart and mind and soul and strength. Serve him. Obey him. Keep his laws. Be faithful to Him and it will go well for you in the promised land. Disobey Him and trouble will not be far away. Before they took possession of that new land – the land which God Himself had promised, the Lord renewed his covenant with them. And he used Moses to do it. God reminded the people of Israel about His deeds on their behalf.
So what’s at stake with the choices Moses talks about? The answer is simple. What's at stake? Everything. Moses didn’t want the people of Israel to turn back to Egypt – either in a literal sense or in a spiritual sense. Egypt represented captivity. Egypt represented bondage and slavery.
Moses didn’t want the people of Israel, when they moved into that new land, to become spiritual slaves just as they had been physical slaves in Egypt. Moses knew very well that, in that promised land, Israel would face many temptations. Many powerful forces would try to separate them from their Heavenly Father. And it is the same for us. We have a choice: slavery or freedom. The Gospel reading is about death and life. It should be understand both in a physical and spiritual way. It is also about choices. It starts 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 emphasize 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. God offers life, abundant life, to a broken world. All of us have choices to make in life. May God help us to make the right choice over and over again in line what he wants. May we always “choose life” in and through Jesus Christ. And may we always be eager to share that life with the people around us. Amen.
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 has many statues of people who gave their lives for others, for causes greater than themselves. And first among them is Jesus, dying in apparent failure on the cross. But we know that cross is a victorious symbol of the greatest love ever shown. We need to live like Jesus lived and take up our cross for the sake of others. Amen.