A reflection by Fr. Jack Lynch, SFM, on Deut. 30.15-20 and Luke 9.22-25
In the liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we heard the invitation to rend our hearts. A rent heart is an open and vulnerable heart capable of listening intently so as to make choices, choices that matter.
It is that attentive listening which is conveyed in the first reading. It begins “if you obey the commandments of God” but then it counters with “if you do not obey.” The words clearly indicate a choice. Obedience has to do with listening and then choosing. We have been gifted with liberty and are free to choose, as are the people that Moses is addressing in the first reading from Deuteronomy.
Moses uses the word “obey” as he speaks to the people prior to their entrance into the Promised Land. They have endured the desert together and have moved beyond Egypt and the place of their bondage. They have learned something of faithfulness and sticking together and are continuing to learn to trust God and to trust each other. They have entered into a covenant and are tied intimately through the Law and the power of God.
As Megan McKenna observes, “…they have learned about justice, lived through fear and experienced the need for responsibility for one another and accountability for their actions and words. They have memories of what God has done for them and continues to do.”
It is a time of danger and a time of testing their obedience. McKenna continues, “What they do will reveal their God. By their choices, their obedience or disobedience to the Law, they will bring forth life or court death and destruction. Without God’s presence, support, power and closeness they will be left helpless before all they will soon face in that place of promise, already occupied by others.”
They are entering a new level of intimacy and knowledge of God and it is time to choose and to choose with one mind and one heart. The words of Moses and the challenge of Jesus to his followers call us to deny ourselves and take up the cross daily and follow Jesus. It is a clear challenge to use our freedom and choose life. Each and every one of us is invited to an obedient listening to the Spirit, not only for ourselves but for all, “so that you and your descendants might live.”
Christianity demands something beyond the “golden rule” and the endurance of life’s hardships. It has to involve conscious and difficult choices. For Jesus, the cross was not something accepted passively or merely endured. It was picked up and embraced. Pope Francis said the other day, “When we open ourselves to life and to serve life, we experience the revolutionary force of love and tenderness, giving rise to a new humanism: the humanism of solidarity, the humanism of life.”
Dennis McBride, the Irish Redemptorist, observes that most people like to keep the subject of suffering outside of our normal conversations. Jesus brings it to the centre, no doubt because the question is central for him. He refuses to cover up the truth; he will not cheat his followers with a simple optimism that refuses to face that which is real. He does not seduce his disciples with empty promises but opens to them, to us the question of our own willingness to pay the price as his followers.
Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Lord, I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words and actions that are your actions. There are no times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you. Please Lord, be with me at every moment and at every place. Give me the strength and courage to live this season faithfully so that when Easter comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life which you have prepared for me”.