OT Lectionary

For those who want a change from the Gospel

Trinity 12 – Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (Related)

If you’re a fan of the rather gruesome 1996 film Trainspotting you’ll be familiar with the call to ‘choose life’ and Mark Renton’s decision ‘I chose not to choose life. I chose something else’, the ‘something else’ being heroin addiction, crime and degradation. In the previous three chapters of Deuteronomy Moses has been setting out for the nation, on the edge of the Promised Land, the choices they have, and the consequences of those choices. In this chapter, he urges them to choose life, which, in the light of the promised blessings and curses, seems a no-brainer. Yet they choose something else, again and again, and so do we. Why on earth are wrong decisions so attractive, and the right paths so difficult to walk in? Jesus himself urged his followers to go through the narrow gate rather than following the wide road towards destruction (Mt 7:13). Why do we constantly make choices which fly in the face of common sense, which we know will cause trouble, but we take them anyway?

One reason, I believe for this daft course of action, has to do with timescale. The consequences of wrong choices do come, but often they come slowly and gradually, rather than instantly. This gives us the impression that we have somehow cheated the system, that we have a kind of immunity which nobody else has. And for Christians it can lead us to believe that God is ‘tolerant’ and doesn’t really mean it when he promises the consequences, because he is after all a God of ‘unconditional love’. So the more we sin and get away with it, the stronger our belief grows that God doesn’t really mean what he says, or that it doesn’t apply to us. That is true of individuals, but we are also seeing the consequences nationally as our life seems to be falling apart.

I don’t know if you were struck reading today’s passage by the long-term nature of it all. There are references to the people’s children in v.2 and 19, for example. There is a reference in v.16 to increasing, in other words having families and descendants, and there is the promise that they will enjoy long life in the land in v.20. The promises of blessing are not short-term; neither are they just for the current hearers. They are about the nation and its long-term future. To steal Peter’s words, the promise is for you and for your children. So presumably the opposite is true. The fruits of disobedience will grow, but they will take time. The people will not live long in the land (v.18), but they will be there for some time before the consequences of their sin are made manifest. We might therefore see that one of the roots of sin is the desire for instant gratification. We want what we want now, and we’re not bothered about the longer-term consequences, either for ourselves or for others. Like Renton and his fellow addicts, we crave that fix now, and we’ve just got to have it.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus urges his followers and potential followers to count the cost, in other words to think ahead. He never promises an easy life for those who walk with him: in fact he promises the very opposite. We need, I believe, in our laudable attempts to evangelise by making the gospel appeal to people, to be careful that we help them to think long-term. People need the gospel not because it will make them feel better, or give them peace, or purpose, or any of the other feel-good factors which we so often promote and share testimonies about. People need the gospel because it’s true, and because it’s worthwhile, and because without it there will be eternal consequences. It seems paradoxical that the more we make the gospel attractive, the more the Church declines in numbers and in influence. But to acknowledge the difficulty of walking the right path, but to call people to it anyway, seems a far more Christ-like approach to evangelism.

So with Deuteronomy, and Moses’ pep-talk before the people finally cross into the land. We know, of course, the next bit of the story, and how the nation’s choice of something else rather than life led them into all kinds of trouble and eventually into captivity in Babylon while the land God promised them was reduced to rubble. Moses’ words ring down the years for us too. Choose life, because that’s the right thing to choose, even if we have to wait until our Promised Land to see the promised blessings.

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