Thursday after Ash Wednesday
1st Reading: Dt 30:15-20
Moses said to the people: “Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the Lord, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy. I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live, by loving the Lord, your God, heeding his voice, and holding fast to him. For that will mean life for you, a long life for you to live on the land that the Lord swore he would give to your fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
Gospel: Lk 9:22-25
Jesus said to his disciples: “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.” Then he said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”
THE CROSS OF SELF DENIAL! In the Gospel today, Jesus tells us, “Deny yourself and carry your cross.” This is a call to Christianity, to follow and have a relationship with our Lord and Saviour. This relationship is challenging yet safe as it leads us ultimately to salvation. Since Christianity is under siege in some of our countries, it is even more difficult to express it. Thus, taking up one’s cross and following Jesus may mean being prepared for dangers and possible martyrdom. In other parts, a Christian is a societal ridicule. With these, a Christian is not an ordinary person and the life of a Christian is a warfare. The Lenten season is a time to strengthen our resolve to follow Jesus. This does not mean ignoring our personal needs, treating ourselves poorly or even being our own enemies. Rather, it is a call to choose the ways of God, as Moses directs. God is our Healer when it hurts. Let us deny ourselves and be closer to Jesus.
PRAYER: Lord help me to deny myself for your sake, Amen.
Realignment of values: In the Old Testament the Israelites are given two ways; that of life and that of doom. In the Gospel, a new season has also set in. Jesus is exhorting his people to get attuned to His philosophy of life. Being street smart, winning an argument by lung power, shouting someone down: all these do not match to his way of life. He highlights the meaning of suffering. Suffering is liberative, it gets you down from your arrogant heights where you are safely perched. Being rejected, being lost, when you bit dust, it is a humbling experience. He will be ready to risk his very life. If you are in the business of protecting yourself, ensuring your security, then you are slowly slipping down on the slope. For what does it profit them, if they gain the whole world but forfeit themselves? (Mk 10:25)
Prayer: Almighty ever living God, Guard us always on our path that we may focus on you as our life’s goal.
LIFE IS A CHOICE; DEATH IS AN OPTION: Human stands tall above all creation because of the power of the intellect and free will. This gift reveals the magnanimity of divine love as captured in the words of St. Augustine of Hippo: “The God who created you without you will not save you without you.” Our free and committed response to the invitation to salvation is necessary for our individual salvation. Moses calls out on Israel to make a choice for God. However, he points out to them that death too is an option as a consequence of the choice against God. Obedience to God begets life because it demonstrates submission to divine will and providence. This choice is painful to the extent that it demands the subordination of one’s intentions and personal desires. This is the message and caution of Jesus in the Gospel text. “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” The success of a Christian is comparable to the success of a seed that must perish to bring forth new crop. The life of the young martyrs Felicity and Perpetua is a testimony that this choice is possible, and that no risk is worth the loss of eternal life.
WALKING THE ROAD LESS TRAVELLED: We are busy accumulating, amassing and hoarding wealth, as if life depends on that. We are like a man who went about in search of learning. He traversed new lands and met many wise men and women. After many years of search, he had all “learning” collected in a pot and wanted to keep it safe. Tying it to his belly, he attempted to climb a tall tree in order to place it away from people’s prying eyes. He struggled so much to try to get up the tree with his pot. To the struggling man, a boy said, “Hang the pot on your back so that you can climb easily.” To this the man lamented to himself, “How sad that with all my learning I could not even place the pot in the right position for me to go up the tree well!” Jesus invites us to drop our sophism and desire to accomplish great worldly things. Empty, I came into the world, and empty I shall go. Jesus empties Himself and takes the form of a servant (Phil 2:6-11). Let us follow the self-effacing ways of the Lord in living our Christian life.