"Today I have set before you
life and prosperity, death and doom.
Television news media often show us videos of terrible destruction in distant places. Either by nature or war, disasters strike at homes, churches, hospitals and stores, afflicting the elderly, the vulnerable and children. Sometimes, as in the recent collapse of hills, even wealthy people are turned out of doors.
But for the most part, these disasters are far away; and most human life is conducted without all that drama. We have our routines and habits. Our duties and responsibilities are spelled out and predictable; our relationships are defined by roles and offices. Televised disaster stories are fascinating because they're unusual and, hopefully, very far away.
Ordinarily, we don't suppose our decisions today involve "life and prosperity, death and doom."
They tell the story of the husband who said, "When we married we decided she would take care of the little decisions, and I would handle the big ones. We've been married forty years and I've yet to make a decision."
Little decisions accumulate and amount to big ones. Even when we're faced with a big decision, as often as not, we realize the decision has already been made. The crisis asks not, "Which way will I go?" but "Will I continue as I have been?"
Our first reading today is from the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy. The Hebrews have come a long way with Moses and God since their escape from Egypt. They have grown accustomed to the life of holiness; they are not unfamiliar with the moral code, the prayers, rituals and accouterments of their new religion. The Lord has led his people in the way of life and prosperity. As they are about to enter the Promised Land, he demands a decisive commitment. Will they continue as they have been? "Life and prosperity, or death and doom?"
Lent reminds us that we do, in fact, make these minor decisions daily and many times a day, that add up to major decisions. The food I eat; the entertainment I choose; the words I use; the prayers I recite: they add up to habits and habits make a lifestyle and...
Most diseases in the United States and the developed countries and, increasingly in poor nations, were selected by lifestyle. Obesity, lung disease, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, addictions: in many cases these common afflictions speak of deliberate choices.
They are not what the Lord had in mind for us when he recommended "life and prosperity."
Lent urges us: "Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the LORD, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him."
Lent is about freedom, that silly word that Americans parrot as if it means something to them. Freedom is fearful and difficult and challenging; it is not for the faint of heart. It is for those who are continually willing to relent and begin again, realizing that many of their decisions have bound them to death and doom -- and they don't have to live that way.