Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Thursday after Ash Wednesday

“The Crucified Christ” 
by Pieter Pauwel Rubens, 1610-11
Commentary on Dt 30:15-20
Moses is presenting the Law of the Lord to the Hebrew people whom he has lead out of bondage in Egypt. He makes it clear that by following the Law, the Ten Commandments, they will find favor in God’s eyes and they will prosper. If they disregard the law, they will find disfavor with God and will die out. He completes the ritualistic covenant phrasing by inviting them to choose life by following God’s law and statutes.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
R. (40:5a) Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.
Commentary on Ps 1:1-2, 3, 4 and 6
Psalm 1 serves as a preface to the whole book of the psalms. The psalmist here exalts those who follow the Lord’s commands and reflects upon the blessings they will receive. As in Romans 6:19ff, this selection emphasizes the contrast between the salvation of the just and the punishment of the wicked.
This wisdom psalm begins by extolling the virtue of those who follow the law. The focus is to look to God for guidance and not to trust only in the counsel of men. Those who reject the law will be blown away like “chaff,” an image used in the Gospel as well (Matthew 3:12).
This portion of the psalm is later echoed in Isaiah 48:17-19 like an overlapped formula of covenant.  Blessed is the man who “delights in the Law day and night,” but “the way of the wicked vanishes.” It also takes up the theme of following right paths and staying true to the teachings of God: “Blessed the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent, but delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on his law day and night.
Gospel: Luke 9:22-25
Commentary on Lk 9:22-25
The Gospel takes up the theme of life and death as Jesus first informs his disciples that he will undergo his passion at the hands of the Jewish hierarchy and be raised. He then provides an invitation to life by contrasting, as Moses did in Deuteronomy 30:15-20, the (spiritual) salvation brought about through faith, and the (eternal) death that awaits the faithless.
CCC; Lk 9:23 1435
The initial lines from the reading from Deuteronomy feel like the Old Testament covenant formula.  If you follow the Lord faithfully, you will have life and all that God hopes for you.  If you don’t, you will be cursed and your life will be short and miserable.  This is an excellent example of the relationship between Israel and the “God of Justice” in the Old Testament.
The same sentiment is clearly echoed in the Psalm (appropriately it is Psalm 1).  Again we hear the covenant formula: blessed is the one who follows the Lord, and cursed the one who does not.
Contrast the Old Testament relationship with God to the New Covenant announced by Christ in the Gospel from Luke.  Jesus is the sacrifice that seals the covenant, in absolute obedience to God the Father. 
“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.”
On day 39 of our Lenten countdown to Easter, we are given a reminder of our goal for the season.  It is given bluntly and without ambiguity.  We must, as our savior says: “…deny himself [ourselves] and take up his [our] cross daily and follow me [him].”
What is denying oneself?  It is rejecting the animal instinct in ourselves that directs us to do only those things that feel good.  It is rejecting that feeling we all have that drives us to ignore the good, wellbeing, or safety of others, and do only what we feel is right for us.  If we can we can put others first as Christ did when he “picked up his cross,” then we are on the right track.
If we do as secular society seems to think is right, what is good for us, then we may have achieved  secular success, but at what cost?  “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world yet lose or forfeit himself?”

[1] The picture is “The Crucified Christ” by Pieter Pauwel Rubens, 1610-11

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