Thursday after Ash Wednesday

Dt 30:15-20; Ps 1:1-4,6; Lk 9:22-25:  The way of the just is the way of the Christ.  The Lord Jesus identified himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Those who hope in the Lord are truly blessed; they follow the way of the Just One, Jesus Christ.  Our blessing is to turn away from the counsel of the credulous and the skeptical.  We have no time to sit and party hearty with the insolent.  It is every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD that attracts and sustains us.  We are like strong and well-rooted trees that can stand in the storms of life because we can bend and not break.  The deep waters of the Spirit refresh and nourish our leaves and fruit.  For us, it is always the right time of year, the due season.  Whenever the Lord Jesus is hungry he can stop by and find fruit, a fruit that will last, even if it’s not the season for figs.  However, those who are credulous or skeptical are left high and dry, blown about by every strong wind or cold breeze.  Indeed, the LORD watches over our ways; the LORD sees in our ways a familiar pattern, a familial design—the cross of his Precious One.  It is the way of the wicked that leads to doom, disaster, and darkness.  This second day of Lent features the prophecy of Moses who summons his people to choose life and prosperity and not death and doom.  The Lord Jesus has the same summons for us in Saint Luke to take up our cross daily and follow him all the way through Calvary into the resurrection. All through Lent, we discover that the only way to life and prosperity is the way of the cross.

In this the second telling of the exodus event, Moses makes clear that there are real consequences to our decisions.  Indeed, the LORD respects our freedom.  Our LORD never violates our free will.  He has freely chosen to offer life and prosperity; the LORD offers his people many descendants and bountiful land.  For a people fresh out of Egypt, that land of slavery, these promises could not be more attractive.  These blessings would abound for those who loved the LORD, for those who kept his commandments, statutes, and decrees.  The curse of death and doom would abound for those who turned away with their hearts and refused to listen, those who were led astray, adored idols and served other gods.  As the LORD decrees, “I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse.”  This life decision is placed before those about to cross over the Jordan and enter into the Promised Land.  We, too, are offered the same choice as this season of Lent begins. We are about to renew or enter into the new life of Baptism.  This is our journey of forty days.  The LORD spoke through Moses encouraging the Israelites to “choose life, choose the blessing”.  The Lord Jesus wants us to do the same, but his invitation appears to be “choose suffering, choose the cross”.  How can this be a blessing?

The Lord Jesus is not afraid to make clear to his disciples that following him must involve losing life in order to save it.  A paradox makes clear.  To introduce the definitive paradox of following the Way, the Lord Jesus predicts his own future.  At the very beginning of Lent we hear a prediction of the end of Lent, Holy Week. The Lord speaks with painful clarity about his own demise, 
“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.”  With hardly a breath pause the Lord Jesus then makes it clear that no one can save his life without losing it.  No one can live forever without dying to self.  Life without end demands the end of self-centered living.  What is the gain?  What is the profit?  What is the use of having everything if you do not even have yourself?  Knowing and loving yourself is impossible without first forgetting and hating your egocentric self.  Anyone who is preoccupied with self-concern never takes the time to see himself as he really is in relationship to others, and to God. This kind of self-absorption is idolatry and slavery.  This is not the way to life and prosperity.  This is the way to death and doom.  If we want to be in the Way we must follow the Way, Christ our Lord who makes clear our future too when he says to his disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Saint Luke is the only Evangelist who includes the word “daily” in the command of Christ.  At the end of Lent, when the Passion of Christ is proclaimed, it is in Saint Luke that we hear of the word of comfort for the good thief, “today you will be with me in paradise”.  Without a daily and growing consciousness of our union with Christ the crucified and risen Lord, we would have no hope for the eternal today.