“See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil.” [Deuteronomy 30:15]
I love it when people tell me that the Bible is full of contradictions. The truth is that the Bible is consistent. The only contradictions we see are because things are taken out of context, or we bring things into our reading of Scripture that clouds what is being said. One of the things that is most consistent in the Bible is our lesson for today. God gives us a choice. We can choose Him and life, or we can reject Him and choose death.
Many people hate black and white choices. They love the grey. They love nuance. But sometimes things ARE black and white. Sometimes the choice is clear. And here God is giving us such a choice.
I am a firm believer that everyone is faced with a choice at least once in their life. It is a choice between life and existence – living a life in fear or living without fear. And I remember specifically the day I chose to live. It was when I chose to go to Oxford to study abroad. It was not my choice of schools; it was not my choice of countries. No, rather, it was my choice to do this alone, without friend or family. It was a choice to do something without creating fear or anxiety. It was a choice that gave me the strength to be my own man, if you will. And that choice lead me down the path that lead me to my ultimate choice of life – my choice to believe in God and accept Christ as my personal Savior.
But to choose life has its consequences. And this is what Christ is trying to explain to us in our Gospel lesson for today:
“If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.”
Now here is our oxymoron. How can someone choose life, but yet hate his own life? Isn’t THIS a contradiction? Isn’t THIS something that makes no sense?
To a non-Christian, this doesn’t make sense because they are taking it literally. What Christ is calling for is NOT someone who literally hates his mother, father, wife, children, brothers or sisters. He is NOT asking for all those who hate life. Rather, He is asking for something much deeper.
Christ knows that to choose Him will have consequences. It will have a price:
“For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?”
In this lesson, Christ is saying that to choose Him may mean the loss of family and friends. And He does not want anyone entering into a relationship with Him blindfolded. No, Jesus wants us to choose Him with our eyes wide open, knowing fully into what we will get ourselves.
Yet, for some, this is enough to keep them away. Just the fear of being disliked or thought a fool is enough for some NOT to choose Christ even though they know or they sense it to be true. But, isn’t this a life lived in fear?
To be a Christian, especially during the first century A.D., involved huge risks. In our epistle lesson, Saint Paul is writing from prison, awaiting his execution. He will be put to death solely because he was a Christian.
Likewise even today to choose to be a Christian may still bring death in some parts of the world. Those in Moslem countries who convert to Christianity, by law, are to be executed. In China, Darfur, and parts of Nigeria, being a Christian may result in your persecution, imprisonment, or even execution by death squads.
And, although we are blessed in our country with religious freedom, this does not mean that we won’t experience prejudices, injustices, and persecution, albeit subtle. But, to choose Christ is to choose to give up our fears. And this is what is key in our lessons for today.
There comes a time for all of us to live life without fear: fear of what might happen; fear of what others might think; fear of losing friends, family, or property; even fear of losing our own lives. These are things that keep us from living authentic lives. But, once we release these fears, once we start living our lives as Christians, then the promises of Christ come through. Yet people still do not understand.
Often people will hear things or read things and misunderstand them. On the first day of school, the kindergarten teacher was explaining the rules and procedures. She said, “If you have to go to the bathroom, hold up two fingers.” A little voice came from the back of the room, asking, “How will that help?”
We often misunderstand, and I am no exception. When Christ says, “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly,” I thought He is talking about eternal life – and that is clearly contained in this passage of the Gospel according to Saint John. However, there is more. Christ is also alluding to the liberation which comes from living a life without fear of the consequences.
Living a life without fearing the consequences does not mean not knowing the consequences. Rather, it means choosing to do that which is important regardless OF the consequences. To do this liberates; it frees us to do that which is consistent with our godly nature. And to choose Christ is the MOST liberating act of all. To choose Christ means not only that we will live eternally, it also means we will have more “abundant,” fulfilling lives here and now. In other words, choosing Christ and releasing our fears will make THIS life better as well.
Living without fear will not prevent heartache, illness, disease, disaster, or death. It is our lot to experience all of these things in this fallen world. But if we believe in Christ, our fears are allayed as long as we keep Him in the forefront of our thoughts. Our fears may still be there, but we get past them knowing the promises that Christ has given us. And we start to live lives worth living – authentic lives of hope and of love. And when we do this, we too will be able to join King David and sing:
BLESSED is the man that hath not walked in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stood in the way of sinners, * and hath not sat in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; * and in his law will he exercise himself day and night.