Mar 3, 2022: Thursday After Ash Wednesday

1st Reading – 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.”

The title “Deuteronomy” comes from the Septuagint deuteronomion, which means “second law.” Moses is addressing a new generation of Israelites, all those who would have been under the age of twenty when the exodus began almost 40 years earlier. These “new” Israelites gathered in Moab to hear Moses restate the law to them.

Today’s first reading is the conclusion of this speech to the Israelites, in which Moses makes a touching and solemn appeal to the people.

Moses said to the people: “Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.

Moses recaps what he has told them in his address, making his message as plain as possible for a people (including us!) who have proven to be extremely stubborn.

Jesus also taught that we must decide between two ways of life. In Matthew 7:24-27, he teaches that listening to his words and obeying is akin to wisely building a house on a foundation of rock, whereas ignoring his teaching would be like building a house on sand, which is the way of the fool.

In Luke 9:23-25, our gospel reading for today, Jesus teaches that anyone who wishes to save his life will lose it, but “whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

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,

Moses has made it clear throughout his speech that following God is not a matter of simply following rules, but living a life of total commitment to the Lord.

It’s no accident that Deuteronomy 6:4-5 became the daily prayer and confession of faith of Jews everywhere: Hear O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.

you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.

Moses describes the tremendous blessings that will come to them if they follow God: prosperity and long existence in the Holy Land, which they are about to enter after forty years of wandering in the desert.

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.

The alternative is to abandon God, follow the ways of the pagan gods such as Baal, and receive divine punishment and God’s curse. They will be thrown off the land and subjugated to their enemies.

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.”

Having stated the case, Moses puts them to their choice, with a direction to them to choose well. Verses 19-20 are particularly moving: “choose life,” i.e., loving the LORD, “for that will mean life for you.”

One of the themes that sets Deuteronomy apart from earlier thinking in Israel is that God’s promises are not simply guarantees that God will stand by this people with protection and help, no matter what they do. Earlier theologies of God as a divine warrior that always fights for his people is now transformed into a new view of a God who will uphold the covenant and all of its terms, including blessing and curse, according to how Israel keeps its part of the treaty.

Psalm 1: 1-4, 6

R. Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Today’s responsorial psalm is from Psalm 1, which serves as a preface to the whole Book of Psalms. It contrasts with striking similes the destiny of the good and the wicked.

This psalm views life as activity, as choosing either the good or the bad. Each “way” brings its inevitable consequences. The wise through their good actions will experience rootedness and life, and the wicked, rootlessness and death.

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.

What identifies a just or righteous person is their behavior, which is very different from the behavior of those who have no regard for the Law of God.

The righteous seek and find in the Law of God the standard to orient their lives.

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.

The righteous are happy because they thrive. The leafy tree symbolizes prosperity and well-being.

Not so the wicked, not so; they are like chaff which the wind drives away.

Contrast the well-rooted tree with the chaff scattered by the wind, which symbolizes the sinful life of the wicked.

For the LORD watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.

In the final analysis, it is the Lord who will judge all.

Gospel – 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?”

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus predicts his own suffering, death, and resurrection.

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 

Jesus prophesied his passion and death in order to help his disciples believe in him.

He refers to himself as the Son of Man, perhaps to prevent any misunderstanding that would occur if he revealed his full messianic identity too soon.

Mention of the elders, chief priests, and scribes is significant. They were three groups that constituted the Sanhedrin, the highest court of the Jewish nation, which, with permission from Rome, was allowed to exercise religious authority.

We must be careful how we interpret this passage. Too often the opposition of Jewish leadership to Jesus has led to anti-Judaism rather than being seen as a way of showing that Jesus was rejected for religious as well as political reasons. The unrest he caused may well have been a political threat to Rome, and the bold claims he made greatly troubled the Sanhedrin.

and on the third day be raised.”

Jesus’ prediction of his own death, along with the prophecy that he will be raised from the dead, show that the rejection and crucifixion he would endure were not mistakes. As difficult as it was to fathom, these events were part of the very plan of God.

It also shows that Jesus was freely accepting the suffering he would undergo.

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. 

The passage ends with instructions for discipleship. Those who follow Jesus must, like him, deny themselves of self-interest and self-fulfillment. Those who take up the cross do so realizing their fate is sealed, since one never puts the cross down again.

Notice that we are to take up our cross daily.

For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. 

There is a play here on the words “save” and “lose”: Those who selfishly save themselves really lost themselves, while those who unselfishly lose themselves really save themselves.

What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”

By this radical statement, Jesus teaches us to do everything with a view to eternal life. Embracing our cross, having an eternal perspective: this is what following Jesus means.

“Christ did not seek to be glorified: he chose to come without glory in order to undergo suffering; and glory in order to undergo suffering; and you, who have been born without glory, do you wish to be glorified? The route you must take is the one Christ took. This means recognizing him and it means imitating him both his ignominy and in his good repute; thus you will glory in the Cross, which was his path to glory that was what Paul did, and therefore he gloried in saying, ‘Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Galatians 6:14)” (Saint Ambrose, Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam)

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