Deuteronomy 30 is the end of Moses’s farewell address to the Hebrew people whom he led from captivity to the land they were promised in Canaan. He has been with them through thick and thin. He knows he will not go with them into the Promised Land. Moses is preparing them to leave their wilderness life of total dependence on God and what it means to be God’s in a culture of plenty in which everything and everyone was viewed as a usable, tradable, ownable commodity.
Moses’ farewell address, which begins in chapter 29, is a renewal of their covenantal relationship with God. Moses is building a covenant between the Hebrew people and God that is based on their relationships with God and one another. He emphasizes that only when they turn to the Lord God with all their heart and with all their soul are they able to love their neighbour. The covenant equated love of God and love of neighbour.
Moses presented the choice that they faced, “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity… If you obey the Lord and walk in his ways, obeying the commandments…then you shall live.” This isn’t a casual choice.
Obedience is hearing with our mind and our heart. Obedience is not merely doing as one is told. Obedience means listening which involves more than hearing and following. Obedience is a discernment process rather than just making a decision. Discernment takes the time to step back and listen to God and one another.
What does it mean to choose life?
We make choices every minute of every day. We choose to listen or not. We choose how to spend our money. We choose our friends. We choose how we care for our bodies and the earth. We spend little time making these daily decisions.
When Moses says to choose life, he is talking about how we love God. However, there is another choice. Moses explains that “if your heart turns away and you do not hear but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them” then your life will not be sustainable. It will be a life that is destructive, it is a life that withers away.
How we choose to live our lives is up to us. The practice of discernment is ongoing. Listening to God is an attitude, not an act. What are the beliefs underneath our decision to choose life?
Matthew 5 begins the teachings of Jesus. Much of what Jesus said goes beyond or around what God had said through Moses. The question was how to remain obedient to God in a changed world. The Jesus of Matthew 5 came to fulfill the Law not to abolish it. For the Jewish people, Torah is the way of life granted by God’s love for humankind. There is the choice. Jesus taught that the weightier matters of the law were justice, mercy, and faith. In Jesus’ words and in his deeds, he was the living justice, mercy, and faith in God. Jesus erred on the side of people which still reverberates in our life together.
This way of living has never been a matter of following rules but of honoring relationships. When we honor our neighbors – when we love them as ourselves, then and only then are we ready to discover what the law and the gospel are all about.
Jesus begins his teaching from the Torah, “you have heard it was said to those of ancient times…but I say to you…” He goes beneath the issue of murder, adultery, divorce, and oaths. Being angry with another is as destructive as murder; adultery and divorce reduce persons to a specific act or role. Your words carry weight. What Jesus is saying is that loving God is tied to relationships and we cannot differentiate our relationship with each other and our relationship with God.
How we love God is reflected in how we treat one another. We reduce the store clerk to an act of serving us as they run the till and bag your groceries rather than encountering them as a person, a mother or father, or a neighbour with particular challenges. How we treat one another is how we treat God.
In a world that continues to build walls and divisive rhetoric, it calls for words that renew relationships. In a world that constantly invites us to see people through the labels we put on them: gay and straight, indigenous, immigrant, liberal, conservative, under-housed and single housed, ill and well. Jesus calls us to discover wholeness, and righteousness in relationships of equality and compassion. In other words, our relationships reveal the same justice and love that God constantly shows toward each of us.
We cannot become the church by accident but only by obedient intentionality.
How do we in our life of faith choose life?
We choose life when we choose to give life to the people around us. Let it be so.