15See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. 16If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. 17But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, 18I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. 19I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Today's first reading comes from the fifth and final book of the Pentateuch or Torah, Deuteronomy that roughly means a "second (deutero) law (nomen)" but really isn't because it articulates the same covenantal way as the rest of scripture. In today's passage we have God's "if – then" call to obedience via Moses. God's love always is unconditional, but God's promises mostly carry the necessary response of human obedience.
For several years we've been talking about neighborology: who is my neighbor? how can I be a good neighbor? That concept is particularly central in Deuteronomy, in Jeremiah, and in Luke's gospel, though it's always a concern for the people of God.
The compilation of the book of Deuteronomy was a long time coming, from events and written sources prior to the Babylonian exile, to events and sources afterwards during the rebuilding of Jerusalem, rebuilding community, restoration of worship, of Torah. Like this year's featured gospel of Luke, Deuteronomy is wide and expansive and inclusive. The entire bible is gospel, good news, but Deuteronomy just may be the most grace- and mercy-filled book of the Old Testament or Hebrew Bible.
We need to stay aware the English word "law" can be a caricature of Torah. God's covenantal way of Torah is fluid, dynamic, and responds in love to the situation at hand. Deuteronomy reminds us to choose life by keeping the commandments, by considering the needs of the other person as at least as important as our own needs. That's neighborology!
The refrain "into the land" runs through Deuteronomy; stewardship of the gift of the land is a central aspect of God's call to keep covenant with God and with all creation. Rather than still depending on God for life-giving manna from the sky or water from the rock as in the exodus desert, after they crossed the Jordan River into Canaan, God gave, the people received, land to live on, ground (dirt, soil, sod, all the same word in Hebrew) that would offer life and sustenance if they cared for it well.
Related to today's reading from Deuteronomy 30, in 2 Kings 22 we find the narrative during the reign of King Josiah of Huldah's discovering the scrolls of Torah, the people in tears when they listened and heard. This happened after some of the people who'd been exiled to Babylon returned to Israel and Jerusalem, a historical time we refer to as "post-exilic." Although the texts had circulated in the dynamic oral tradition and gotten written down piecemeal, at that time those words started to be codified and canonized and the Israelites became a People of the Book—just as we Christians are People of the Book.
This passage from Deuteronomy actually narrates events from five or six centuries earlier when the people were getting ready to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land after the post-Egypt wilderness trek; here, close to the end of Deuteronomy, the people retell, recount, and remember their experiences of God's faithfulness. Remember is far more than passive recollection; re-member means to identify with, to live into past events so they became present to us and carry us into the future. We do the same thing when we celebrate Holy Communion! Part of most Eucharistic Prayers includes events from God's history with the people; by retelling those events, we claim them and place ourselves in the history of all God's people. We call that section of the communion liturgy anamnesis, or "remembering." Someone mentioned "Remember!" is the Gospel in a single word. Think about it!