In today's reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses exhorts the people to "choose life"; while in the Gospel Jesus speaks of "saving" one's life. The focus on "life" in each of these readings both complements and differentiates at the same time.
Moses maintains that if the people of Israel live according to God's commandments, they will enjoy prosperity. God will give them a land to call their own. Because these people have yet to develop any concept of life after death, he is speaking of their natural lives. This statement forms the foundation of the theology of reciprocity which is prevalent throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. If you are good, God will be good to you.
Jesus, on the other hand, is speaking of a different kind of life. We know that the cross was the instrument by which Jesus suffered and died. Saving our lives in this context refers to our life after death, our life with God. Throughout his life, Jesus countered the notion that the reward for obedience was a guarantee against disease or poverty. God is not some capricious gift giver who withdraws favor when we fail to obey the commandments.
Jesus is himself the answer to those who hold on to the notion of a reciprocity in our relationship with God. Notice that in St. Luke’s Gospel, we hear that “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." (Luke 9:22) As I read these words this morning, I paused as I reached the word "must." In other words, it was necessary that Jesus suffer. His suffering was inescapable, obligatory, essential, required, or any one of a myriad other synonyms for the word "must."
To be sure, that necessity also impinges on our lives. Suffering paves the way to the eternal life that we are promised when we take up our cross and follow in the footsteps of Jesus.
Though these readings are based on two different understandings of God and two different notions of life, they do focus our attention on the purpose of Lent. Most of the things from which we fast during Lent are oftentimes the harmful things: sweets and desserts, an extra helping, alcohol, cigarettes, another hour of television, etc. At the same time, there are those who choose healthy alternatives: exercise, going to bed at a reasonable hour, time with the Scriptures or some other spiritual reading. All of these things will enhance our natural lives. However, oftentimes they will also draw us closer to God. Lent is good for the body as well as good for the soul.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator