Wednesday, February 10, 2016


Homily for February 11th, 2016: Deut 30:15-20; Luke 9:22-25.

          God’s chosen people, the Jews, were slaves in Egypt for more than four centuries, over double the life of slavery in our country. Oppressed people seldom develop high standards of social life. The high statistics of black on black crime in our country illustrate this. They also show that we are still paying the price of slavery. The price of oppression continues to be demanded even after the oppression has ended. The stories coming out of North Korea are similar – or worse. Oppressed people follow the law of the jungle, preying on one another in ways that horrify us.

          So the ragtag group of people who crossed the Red Sea with Moses had grown accustomed for centuries to inflicting on one another the cruelty they experienced from the people who had enslaved them.

          This is the background for God’s gift to Moses of the Ten Commandments. They were not then, nor are the Commandments now, fences to hem people in. The Commandments are ten signposts pointing the way to human flourishing and freedom. 

          That is exactly what Moses tells the people in our first reading. “Today I have set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. … If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God … [He] will bless you … If, however you turn away your hearts … and serve other gods … you will certainly perish. …Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.”

          Is that just long ago and far away? Don’t you believe it! The worship of false gods is as widespread today as it was in Bible times. Today’s idols are pleasure, power, possessions, and honor. None of those things is bad. They become idols, only when we make pursuit of any one of them central in our lives. Once we do that, we inevitably experience frustration – because we can never get enough.

What is the remedy? Jesus gives it to us in the gospel. “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” Doing that means putting the Lord at the center of our lives: before our own desires and ambitions, even before those whom we love most. A long life has taught me that people who do that, and only such people, experience the peace and joy that only the Lord can give.