Keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess.
But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Jesus said to his disciples, "The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised." Then he said to them all, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
The Jesus who declared that his life purpose was "that they may have life, and have it to the full" (Jn 10:10) also said that his friends must share in his death and carry the cross with him. The two statements stand in paradoxical tension, but not in contradiction.
From the start of the church it has been a fixed principle that only through dying with him can we enter the fullness of life.
Deuteronomy, a book much loved and used by Jesus, presents fidelity, as the key to the future of God's people. "By walking in his ways, you shall live" it says, but if your heart turns away and you do not hear, I declare to you today that you shall perish!" In this, his final address to the people he has led out of slavery and into the Promised Land, Moses ends with the heartfelt appeal: "Choose life!"
Jesus says that if we want to be his followers we have to be ready to renounce ourselves. Lent is traditionally a time for self-denial. We ask ourselves what it is we need to let go, to give up, in order to follow the Lord more closely. We all have something we need to let go off; it might be some excessive attachment that is holding us back, or some habit that is not serving us well. Self renunciation is more difficult today than in the past because we live in a culture which encourages us to indulge ourselves. We can easily think of self-renunciation as something negative. Yet, the giving up, the letting go, is always with a view to life, to living life to the full. The 1st Reading puts it very positively, "Choose life," and Jesus says in the gospel that whoever loses his life for his sake will save it. We pray this Lent that the Lord would give us the grace to keep on choosing life. [MH]