Christ holding the Law, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. [retrieved September 2, 2022]. Original source: image donated by Jim Womack and Anne Richardson.

RCL Year C, Proper 18 (Alternate Readings)
Deuteronomy 30:15-20, Psalm 1, Philemon 1-21, Saint Luke 14:25-33

Eight weeks ago today, we had a reading from Deuteronomy. In fact, that reading was the six verses directly preceding the reading today. What I said then about the Deuteronomist applies to the reading today. I said, “The theology of the Deuteronomist may be summarized very simply: keep God’s commandments, and God will prosper you. Disobey God’s commandments, and God will not prosper you. [1]” The reading today more sharply distinguishes the two choices human beings have. One the Deuteronomist calls “life and prosperity,” and the other he calls “death and adversity.” The difference between the two is whether we obey the commandments of the Lord our God.[2]

In the Gospels you and I have explored together, we have seen Jesus question and even disobey the received interpretations of those commandments. All the people he addresses, his disciples, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the followers of John the Baptist, all of them, have chosen life and prosperity, to use the Deuteronomist’s term. No one Jesus addresses has chosen death and adversity. No one has chosen to sacrifice or to worship the gods of the peoples who earlier inhabited the Promised Land. They have not “lingered in the way of sinners,” nor have they “sat in the seats of the scornful,” to use the terms of the First Psalm.[3] They are more or less, to the best of their ability, observing the laws and commandments that lead to life and prosperity.

And what does Jesus say to them? He says to them a number of things, most of which are unique to Luke’s Gospel. He says, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”[4] He says, “Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”[5] He goes on to give examples of a builder and a king waging war, doing the calculations to determine whether he can succeed in finishing the building and winning the battle. If the calculations are unfavorable, the king “asks for terms of peace.”[6] He concludes by saying that the possessions we have prevent us from being his disciple.[7]

So, as Jesus puts the Deuteronomist’s choice to us, the choice is not so much a choice between life and death, as it is a choice between loving God or loving possessions or anything that takes our attention away from God. Jesus focuses on the absolute dedication necessary to be a disciple. No attachment of family or possessions can stand in the way of the commitment demanded of a disciple.

The road that Jesus describes is hard and uphill. The cross we choose to bear may indeed be the commitment to God that we make while we continue to maintain relationships in our families while we maintain a place to live by earning the money necessary to survive. When push comes to shove, we maintain our allegiance to God as our primary allegiance. And when push comes to shove for God, as he observes the striving to keep the law and the commandments, he sends Jesus Christ to be our Savior, to make on Calvary “a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world.”[8]

It is a mystery, fully comprehended not by us but by God. But it involves giving ourselves to him, fully, as he gave himself to us, fully. How it works, we do not know. But we know he came to save us.

[1] Deuteronomy 30:9-10.

[2] Deuteronomy 30:16.

[3] Psalm 1:1.

[4] Saint Luke 14:26.

[5] Saint Luke 14:27.

[6] Saint Luke 14:32.

[7] Saint Luke 14:33.

[8] BCP (1928), page 80.