People who use sacred texts have often found ways of selecting passages appropriate to their needs. Disciples of Confucius used a complex system of hexagrams, chosen by lot, to find images and comments suitable to their time, place and situation. In classical and medieval times, the writings of Virgil and Homer were used in a similar way. Sometimes the Bible was accessed by lot or dice or random procedures. The Church responded to the need to select appropriate wisdom from the Bible, by the daily lectionary, a selection of readings for every day in the year, which was originally used in monasteries, but has for some time been used in daily mass in the Catholic Church, and for private devotion in others. Obviously the choice of passages reflects a theology and the Christian calendar, but it also has an arbitrary element. It asks the reader, “Can this wisdom be applied to your soul, your community, your place, today?” This blog follows the daily readings and hopes to uncover some wisdom.
Reading 1, Deuteronomy 30:15-20
15 ‘Look, today I am offering you life and prosperity, death and disaster.
16 If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am laying down for you today, if you love the Lord your God and follow his ways, if you keep his commandments, his laws and his customs, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the country which you are about to enter and make your own.
17 But if your heart turns away, if you refuse to listen, if you let yourself be drawn into worshipping other gods and serving them,
18 I tell you today, you will most certainly perish; you will not live for long in the country which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
19 Today, I call heaven and earth to witness against you: I am offering you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you and your descendants may live,
20 in the love of the Lord your God, obeying his voice, holding fast to him; for in this your life consists, and on this depends the length of time that you stay in the country which the Lord swore to your ancestors Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that he would give them.’
Gospel, Luke 9:22-25
22 He said, ‘The Son of man is destined to suffer grievously, to be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes and to be put to death, and to be raised up on the third day.’
23 Then, speaking to all, he said, ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross every day and follow me.
24 Anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, will save it.
25 What benefit is it to anyone to win the whole world and forfeit or lose his very self?
The book of Deuteronomy is a drama which places Israel at the entrance of the land of promise, where Moses sets out the meaning of God’s covenant with the people. It is a fiction which allows the authors to show why the people had been defeated and exiled in Babylon: they had broken the covenant. The wonderful thing about the book is the way it keeps returning to the great commandment, “You shall love the Lord your God.” Obedience is not enough, for God demands the heart. Only a strong love for God will keep the people from “unfaithfulness” with other gods. In a secular culture, we easily emphasise love of neighbour, as if it were sufficient in itself, but idolators can love their idolatrous neighbours. Love of neighbour is only clean if it comes from a heart that is not enslaved by destructive powers. For this reason, worship is educative, teaching reverence for the source of life, encouraging love of the one who is not the universe. Encouraging love of God and discouraging idolatry may be the most vital tasks of the church in an affluent society.
The character of God, seen in the story of Jesus is very different from the comfortable absentee landlord often imagined. God “suffers grievously” in his/her human son, taking the way of rejection, pain and death, in order to be true to the Godself. Anyone who loves this God must learn to bear the cost of opposing the powers of violence symbolised by the cross. The cross does not say “passive acceptance,” it says to a world power, “You are not our God.” In this carelessness of our own safety, we find our true selves.