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Choose life that you may live

Choose life that you may live

Like the Israelites in the midst of the desert, we are called to choose between life and death. What does it mean to choose life?

Reading: Deuteronomy 30:15-20 

This homily was preached to the student brothers at compline. You can listen here or read below:

 

“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live…”

This is the ultimatum that the Israelites were given during their wandering in the desert; this is the choice they have to make – a choice between life and death. To choose life, they are told that they must love the Lord and obey His commandments. This is not a choice that they make just once, but one they had to face throughout the whole of their wandering in the desert. It is a choice that we are called to make every single day.

The desert is a very familiar theme, especially in this season of Lent. After all, the 40 days of Lent calls to mind the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting and praying in the desert, which itself recalls the 40 years that the Israelites spent in the desert. From the moment they are brought out of slavery in Egypt, they are faced with the choice to follow the Lord or not. And we can read in the Scriptures of the many times they chose to turn away from God – whether by fashioning an idol out of the golden calf, by doubting in His providence, or even wanting to return to the seeming comforts of Egypt.

Reading the Exodus narrative, it’s easy to be amused by the fickleness of the Israelites. These are, after all, a people who have seen first-hand the many miracles God had worked for them. They’ve seen the plagues God sent against the Egyptians, the Red Sea split in two for them, the manna from heaven – and yet they seem to turn away from God at the drop of a hat.

But are we all that different from the fickle Israelites? How often do we turn away from God at the drop of a hat? Having been set free from slavery to sin through the sacraments of Baptism and Reconciliation, and having been fed by the Bread of Life in the Eucharist, how quickly do we turn back to our sins like a dog to its own vomit? How often do we look back longingly at the comforts of sin, of slavery in Egypt?

“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live…”

So how are we to choose life? For the Israelites, they were called to abandon their false gods and to pursue a right relationship with the true God. But it didn’t stop there. They were also called to a right relationship with each other, to care for the poor and needy, to forgive debts, to set captives free. So, we read in Dt 15:11, “For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, you shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land”.

What is my relationship with God like? Have I abandoned my false Gods and idols – my lust, my greed, my pride, etc.? Or am I still clinging on to them, like the Israelites in the desert? When I fast, pray, and give alms, do I do so in order to feel good about my own piety, or do I do so in order to be closer to God? What is my relationship with other people like? Do I care for the poor and the needy? Do I love those around me? Do I love those who are difficult to love, those who hate me, those who annoy me?

Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel reading, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” There is a rather curious parallel here with the First Reading. The cross appears to be a symbol of death, a punishment saved for criminals and failed rebels, a humiliation. Yet we are told that to choose life is to take up our cross and follow Jesus. It is a strange but wonderful irony that through Jesus Christ, what looks like failure and defeat, becomes victory for us; what looks like weakness, becomes strength; and what looks like death, becomes new life.

Like the Israelites in the desert, who were guided by a pillar of fire, we know that we can survive the journey through life’s desert, towards the Promised Land in heaven, because we have the cross of Jesus Christ before us. We have a God who says, “Follow me”, who goes into the desert before us to be tempted by Satan, and takes up His cross first to suffer and die for us. And He promises eternal life to all those who take up their cross and follow Him.

In our weakness, therefore, let us cling to that same Cross and hope in His abundant mercy. This Lent, let us take up our cross and resolve again to follow God. Let our fasting re-orient our desires away from all temporary goods and toward the living God; let our alms-giving soften our hearts towards our neighbours and let it help us to love one another as we should; and let our prayer soften our hearts towards God and help us to rest in His love.

Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His great love has no end.

Br Jerome was born and grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. He moved to England to study Chemical Engineering at the University of Bath, where he remained to complete an MPhil in Electronic & Electrical Engineering. While in Bath, he helped run the Young Adults' Group in the parish of St John the Evangelist and eventually felt called to the Dominican way of life, joining the Order in 2020. He enjoys playing the guitar and loves discussing all things Scripture-related. His favourite books are The Imitation of Christ and Crime and Punishment.
jerome.johnson@english.op.org

Comments (4)

  • Tom R

    Thank you Brother Jerome

    reply
  • Susan

    Great sermon! Thank you.

    reply
  • Christopher Albert

    Good sermon!

    reply
  • Paul

    Brilliant, Brother Jerome. The Lord really spoke to my heart through this sermon.
    Love
    Paul

    Numbers 6: 24-26

    reply

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