A personal choice, a pressing choice – Thursday, After Ash Wednesday – Deut 30:15-20/ Luke 9:22-25
I was once approached at Bandra railway station by a street urchin. He was tugging at my trouser begging for alms. It is no secret that there is an organized syndicate where in children are put out to beg for someone with little conscience, sitting round the corner and collecting money on the backs of these children. I chose rather to offer the child something to eat and he took up my offer with a smile on his face.
At the railway canteen I asked him what he wanted and he looked around for a while weighing the choices between the sweets and savouries. Having settled on a savoury he promptly informed the vendor that he would like the spicy sauce over the sweet one to accompany his snack.
I was tickled pink; he had some ‘tough’ choices to make but choose he did, and if I may say, he chose wisely. Our world is filled with choices, especially if we are privileged. We choose an Indian breakfast over a continental one, we choose casual clothing over formals. In fact, we are spoilt for choices. The types of coffees, for example, offered today at any coffee bar would leave our grandparents in shock. The spiritual life too demands us to make a choice. We are asked to choose; life or death, a blessing or a curse.
The text of today is taken from the book of Deuteronomy. The Israelites are in Moab, east of the Dead Sea. They have wandered forty years in the wilderness under Moses leadership, and are facing two significant changes. One is that Moses will soon die, without having entered the Promised Land. The second is that the people will soon cross the Jordan River to enter the Promised Land. Once they cross into the promised land they are on their own. This is an important moment and they have to make a life altering choice. There is no middle ground in the choice given.
Not all choices can be approached flippantly. Choosing vanilla over chocolate at an ice cream parlour is not an agonizing choice. Then there are those that involve long term consequences; a marriage proposal for example has to be examined carefully. The choice that God set before his people was one that required not just application of mind but a dedicated heart. God is asking his people to make a choice for themselves not take a decision for others. God asks his people to make a choice that is personal but one that was pressing.
The choice is personal; Even though God was addressing the people of Israel, he was speaking to every member individually. The personal choice to follow the Lord is reflected in the Gospel of today; “If any of YOU want to become my followers.” Even though the call may be collective the response must be personal and one that is marked by a freedom. But once committed to discipleship, the demands are clear…deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me.
Yet the choice is also pressing; there is an urgency in the demand to make that choice today. In the reading from Deuteronomy the word “today” appears four times in verses 15-19, giving this text an urgent quality; a feeling of immediacy. We cannot bury our father and mother and then follow him rather we have to leave father and mother and follow him.
These are choices that every person faces in ways great or small almost every day. The small decisions are as important as the great ones, because those are where the seeds of evil are planted. “The Devil does not shock a saint into alertness by suggesting whopping crimes. He starts off with little, almost inoffensive things to which even the heart of a saint would make only mild protests” (Walter Farrell).
Few of us will be tempted to rob a bank at gunpoint, but most of us will be tempted to take advantage of a clerk’s error in our favor at the cash register. Few of us will be tempted to become major players in the sex trade, but most of us will be tempted to look at pornographic movies or to flirt with someone other than our spouse. If we can learn to choose life when faced with those smaller temptations, the larger temptations will never gain a grip on us.