This morning’s reading from Deuteronomy might be seen to hold the beginnings of what has come to be called a prosperity Gospel in the Bible. Here we at first reading see signs of the teaching that if you follow God and His commands you will know blessings and prosperity .. you will know health and happiness and good things will happen to you.
Now we all know this is not true. We are all aware that bad things happen to good people of faith and love and that good things happen to bad people who don’t deserve to prosper.
Luckily the Bible acknowledges this too and so in fact we are challenged to think deeper about the promise of God to know blessings and not curses, to know life and not destruction, through obedience and relationship with God.
First of all let us qualify without reservation the idea that walking according to God’s will is not something which brings comfort and prosperity to us. Take Jesus as our example of one who walked absolutely according to the Fathers will … and as one who suffered and was tempted and despised and betrayed and killed. This was not a prosperous life in the sense that some churches teach the Christian life to be. And in order that we do not think Jesus was somehow unique let us remember in our Gospel reading each one of us is called to live that same life of denial and sacrifice!
It is a crucial message because this Lent we are called to focus on self-denial and sacrifice and penitence! The Christian life os not one of prosperity but one of sacrifice and denial and in some manner diminishment .. for us to live is Christ .. it is no longer I that live but Christ in me!
And I think this is the start of us understanding the OT message a little clearer. The idea that out obedience does not bring personal but corporate life and peace. If we consider the promise to Israel it is that if they obey God’s commands their descendants will live in the Land. Our personal sacrifice brings a bigger wider deeper peace and prosperity.
This is the truth of the Christian faith … that life is not all about us!! That it is the good of the community that is served through our faithful obedience and not our own. That though we might face heartache and sufferings and illness this can be turned into blessing for those around us and those who will follow us. This gives meaning to our lives. In His personal sacrifice Jesus extended peace and love to the whole world. We are called to do something similar with our lives.
This Lent we are called to self-denial and self-sacrifice in order to make space for others. To take time to repent of the injustices and inequalities that our personal gains can cause in the world. To stop the busyness of self-promotion and self-gain in order to give time and money and effort to others. For it is doing this that our communities and churches are blessed.
Israel were given the choice .. choose life or choose death. But the choice was not for them as individuals for they would all die and no doubt many would suffer illness and heartache even in the promised land. The choice was to choose ongoing life for the whole community of faith. For the next generations to come. And the choice required for such life is one of self-denial and often pain and loneliness. It is the way of the cross. It is the way of Lent. It is the way of finding meaning even in the valleys .. peace in the valleys through lifting our heads to a higher horizon beyond the precipices that so often surround us.
Choose life Deuteronomy says to us. Chose a life of self-sacrifice Jesus says to us. But it is always our choice and it is in this that we find meaning and purpose.