Each day we make choices. Not all of them are labeled so clearly: “life and prosperity” or “death and doom”.
On our farm equipment, we have lots of warning labels announcing dangers and hazards to avoid. These signs raise our awareness of risks from careless behavior. But not all hazards come with labels – like the unpredictable behavior of a bull weighing a ton or more. You learn to respect boundaries from stories you hear and from your own experiences with close calls that you survive, which are in turn retold in still more stories. Narrow escapes can cause an epiphany as we realize the proximity of death and doom and what a gift our fragile life really is. We may even change our ways and make better choices as a result of these encounters.
Today’s readings call us to think further about our choices. If only life were so easy as to walk through one door or the other – we would all chose “life and prosperity” over the “death and doom” label, wouldn’t we? And then it would be done! But it is not just one choice, but choices we make every day that matter – and often continue to matter as our life unfolds. Thank God for his mercy, in that we do not always get the full consequences of our bad choices. We often get another chance – maybe lots of them – but not always. Life is, so to speak, a limited time offer.
And what about the challenge that Jesus gives to us in today’s gospel? At first blush, the Moses’ challenge seems a lot easier than what Jesus asks of us. Moses at least mentions good outcomes in the here and now in his proposition. But if we are honest about ourselves, that deal requires more of us than we are capable of delivering; sometimes we know that we might not keep our end of the bargain. That death and doom outcome is not what we want, but it may fit the quality of our choices. We fallible, fractured humans need mercy, always, everywhere and often.
Jesus’ proposition to follow him – with cross in tow – doesn’t paint a rosy picture. Losing our lives and denying ourselves as the path to finding the life we really desire sounds like a pretty high-stakes venture. If we are honest, can we imagine saying, “Really, Jesus? You want us to do WHAT? Isn’t this asking us a bit much? (And that loving and forgiving your neighbor stuff you keep talking about – have you met my neighbor?)”
But Jesus knows this is in our hearts as he smiles back at us and asks in return, “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?” Jesus laughs to himself and turns back to the path. He keeps going forward, knowing we are still following, doubts and all. We chew on his words along the way, knowing that the gaining-the-whole-world and going-our-own-way approach we were following was not really working that well for us anyway. Encouraged, we sing, “Hallelujah, Lord, to whom can we go – you have the words of eternal life.” We choose to keep following, one step at a time, with our friends along the way to encourage us, too, and to grab our hand and bring us back to the path when we stray. Thanks be to God.
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