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Thursday – after Ash Wednesday – Lent
Readings: Dt 30:15-20; Lk 9:22-25.
Reading 1 (Dt 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.”
Gospel (Lk 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?”
Written by: Fr. Anthony Dinh M. Tien, O.P.
I. THEME: What is meant “to live?”
There are many points of views about how one must live his life. There are atheists who think their life on earth is all what they have, so they must enjoy what the world offers to the fullest. To these people, all religious values are meaningless because they don’t believe God’s existence and the life after death. The majority of people believe there are rewards and punishments and the life after death, so they must live this life in a way that they can reach the eternal life.
Today readings invite people to review their concept about life. In the first reading, the author of Deuteronomy differentiated between the two ways of life: one way of life for those who love God and obey all what He teaches, the other way of life for those who worship idols and disobey God’s commandments. According to the author, only the first way of life shall bring the true happiness for human beings. In the Gospel, Jesus also proposed his two ways of life: who wants to be his disciples must give up his will, carry his daily cross and follow him. In opposition, those who don’t want to follow this way of life, are in danger to loose all what they are possessed.
1/ Reading I: Two ways of life
The Book of Deuteronomy esteemed the role of the law, because God Himself gave this law. According to the author, only God knows what is good for human beings; so, His purpose in giving the law is to help people to live happily and to avoid all possible dangers. The author simply described two ways of life which people can choose to live as follows: “See, I have set before you this day life and good, death and evil.”
(1) Those who love and obey God shall happily live: The author described the first way of life: “If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you this day, by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his ordinances, then you shall live and multiply, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land which you are entering to take possession of it.”
(2) Those who don’t love and disobey God shall perish: The second way of life is the reverse of the first way: “But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you this day, that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land which you are going over the Jordan to enter and possess.”
The first way of life, though simple, but is impossible to fulfill, because everyone disobeyed God and violated His law. As a result, everyone must die as God said through the author: “I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.” If God doesn’t have other plan for human beings, all must die in their sins. But God already has another plan to save people. He let His Only Son to incarnate and to redeem people. By Christ’s blood poured out on the cross, all people’s sins are forgiven and people can be reconciled to God and inherit the eternal life. The condition for their sins to be forgiven is to believe in Christ.
2/ Gospel: Whoever wants to save his life will loose it.
2.1/ The Messianic way of salvation: Jesus revealed to his disciples: “The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” In only one sentence, Jesus revealed to his disciples these four revelations: First, there are two lives: present and future. Secondly, he must greatly suffer, is rejected, died; but will gloriously resurrected in the third day. Thirdly, the worldly power can kill human body, but can’t touch human soul. Lastly, he voluntarily suffered in order to redeem people; he can choose other way.
2.2/ Three necessary conditions to become Jesus’ disciples: According to the Synoptists, the verb “to follow” means “to become a disciple.” To follow Jesus is to want to become his disciples. This means a disciple accepted not only the master’s ideal but also his way to reach his ideal. Jesus’ ideal is for all people to reach the salvation which he prepared for them through his Passion, death and resurrection. To reach this ideal, Jesus required his disciples to meet three conditions as follows:
(1) One must want to follow: God gives people freedom to choose; none can force people to do a thing they don’t want to do. Though God can force, but if God acts as such, He is contradictory with Himself because He creates people to have freedom and forces them to do what they don’t want. God wants to reveal to people all the goodness of the life to come and all terrible results if men miss this goal; and then, He let people freely choose them.
(2) One must sacrifice his will: Jesus understand human beings more than people understand themselves. He knows people have tendencies to choose what is easy to do; to love vainglory; to love power and enjoyment; but all these tendencies only prevent people to reach the ideal which God has planned for human beings. Therefore, Jesus required his disciples to give up their own self, that is, to give up their will to live according to God’s will.
(3) One must carry his daily cross: Jesus also knows people don’t like to suffer, to be slandered, confined in prison, scourged, and died; but he wants them to daily carry all these pains to follow him because they will benefit people and help them to reach the ideal which God plans for them. Jesus himself also passed through the way of the cross to redeem people.
2.3/ The illogical principle of life: Jesus said: “For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it.” To understand this verse, we must accept there are two lives, the present life and the life to come. Those who follow Jesus can lose this present life, but they shall have the eternal life. But those who want to save their present life, those who don’t want to follow God, shall loose the eternal life.
The question which is needed for us to answer is which life is more valuable? According to Jesus, the eternal life is much more valuable because people shall live with God and be happy for ever. Therefore, Jesus posed a question for us to meditate and to answer: “For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?”
III. APPLICATION IN LIFE:
– We need to clearly differentiate between the two ways of life: according to God and to the world. When we select the way, we must also accept the result of that way of life.
– Our experience has taught us that a wide and easy way doesn’t yield profits for human beings, but only leads to perish. In opposition, a narrow and difficult way, though hard to follow, but always profits people.
– Lent gives us an occasion to examine our life to see which way of life we are living. It is possible that we are living according to the worldly way even though our human mind wants to follow Jesus’ ideal.