Thursday after Ash Wednesday – First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 30:15-20

Both readings today offer a clear choice between the way of death and the way of life. The First Reading passage comes from near the end of the Book of Deuteronomy, just before it relates the last actions and the death of Moses. It is in a section known as the Third Discourse, that is, a third discourse attributed to Moses. Only Deuteronomy speaks of a covenant made in Moab, an area to the east of the Dead Sea and the last territory which the Israelites passed through on the way to the Promised Land. The covenant is complementary to that made at Horeb, where the Decalogue was given to Moses.

This reading (as does today’s Gospel) offers a choice between life and death:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.

Life is to be found by totally accepting the way of life that God proposes:

If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God…

In other covenants outside that of the Old Testament, it was common to name a list of gods who served as ‘witnesses’ to its contents. The covenant between Yahweh and his people was witnessed by both heaven and earth:

I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life…

The way to life that God offers is not one that much of the world proposes. In fact, the world sees God’s ways as limiting when, if properly understood, they are truly liberating. The life that God offers is not freedom to indulge in every desire and pleasure – pursuit of wealth, uninhibited sex, indulgence in drugs, and such. Day after day people’s lives are being destroyed by these things.

Life, now and in the future, consists in hearing, assimilating, and living out the way of life that God proposes. Today, God offers us the clear choice between life and death; he leaves the choice up to us.

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