Third Sunday before Lent, 12 February 2017
Queen Camel, Corton Denham, Sutton Montis
Every moment of every day we are presented with choices.
And so every moment of every day ring clear the ancient words of Moses to God’s people:
‘Today I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days.’ 
God wants his people to know the blessing in obeying him, over the curse if they disobey. God wants us to know that obeying means pursuing life and good, and disobeying means pursuing death and evil.  God entreats the people to choose life and obey.
By giving them the commandments, the basis of the law, Moses showed the people how they could know whether they were obeying or disobeying God; the Law with its unambiguous statements like ‘do not murder’, ‘do not commit adultery’, ‘divorce your wife by certificate’, ‘do not swear falsely’. Obey these commands and life and blessing will ensue; disobey, and death and curses are your lot.
Now, when Jesus came along he noticed that people had somehow got things twisted, so that obeying the Law didn’t always mean pursuing life and good, that sometimes it meant pursuing death and evil.
When Jesus came along he revealed how that had happened. Jesus chipped away at those old tablets of stone to see what was under the surface. To get to the heart of things Jesus teased and tormented the lawyers of his day - and he often did it on the Sabbath, because one Law which demonstrated the tension between life and death, blessings and curses, was the Law which stated, ‘For six days shall work be done, but the seventh day is a sabbath of solemn rest, holy to the Lord; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall be put to death’ 
So in one of many cases we find in the gospels, one Sabbath day, in the synagogue, Jesus saw a man with a withered hand, and called him over. He could see that his scandalised audience of Pharisees were ready to accuse him of breaking the law, so he asked them, ‘Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?’ 
It was like a paraphrase of Moses’ words. There in that moment Jesus was telling the lawyers,
I’m putting before you a choice, in the same words as Moses did, the choice which God’s messenger Moses always puts before you: the blessing if you obey, and the curse if you disobey. And obeying means pursuing life and good, and disobeying means pursuing death and evil. So here you are, are you really celebrating the Sabbath according to Moses? If you are, you will certainly want me to choose life and good, you’ll surely want me to heal this man’s hand. But if you are not really celebrating the Sabbath according to Moses, then who are you to accuse me of disobeying the Law? 
The Pharisees had no answer to that. They were faced with the reality that the Law needs interpreting, that choices about it need to be made each and every day, and that
… if the choice is to follow the commandments, or not to follow them, to do good and choose life, or not to do good, and not to choose life, which is it to be? One of the things you really can’t do with this choice is to say I will obey the commandments, which means not choosing life. 
This paralysed the Pharisees; and Mark’s gospel tells us that Jesus looked around angrily at his critics; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
Here was Jesus challenging the fundamentalist lawyers to see that their Moses was not the real Moses. Challenging them to acknowledge that the truest application of the laws of Moses could be achieved only through delving deep beneath the surface of those laws to see where they originate from.
‘Jesus was grieved at their hardness of heart,’ we read. It’s a simple statement but it illuminates the whole discussion. For from this Sabbath encounter and the others in the scriptures we learn that while the Law deals with our outward behaviour, Jesus focusses us on our hearts. It’s there in the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount which we have just heard again today. 
The Law says ‘do not murder’ but Jesus directs us to address our inner anger, our tendency to belittle or insult others, our unforgiving nature.
The Law says ‘do not commit adultery’ but Jesus invites us to confront our lusts and unhealthy desires.
The Law says ‘a man can get a divorce by presenting his wife with a certificate’ but Jesus points us towards the emotional consequences of that action, for each party involved, of how this break will cast shadows over every future relationship they have.
The Law says ‘do not swear falsely’ but Jesus says ‘do not swear at all’, instead cultivate truthfulness and trustworthiness within you.
Brian D. McLaren reflects on this part of the Sermon on the Mount, writing,
In each case, conventional religious morality (the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees) is about not doing external wrong: not murdering, not committing adultery, not committing divorce, not breaking sacred oaths, not getting revenge on the wrong people. But the kingdom manifesto calls us beyond and beneath this kind of morality; we must deal with greed and lust, arrogance and prejudice in the heart. And more, instead of merely not doing wrong, with a changed heart we will be motivated to do what is right. Jesus words on adultery fit into this pattern. Yes, he says, you can avoid technically committing adultery, but your heart can be full of lust. Just as there would be no murder without anger, there would be no adultery without lust. So, Jesus says, if you want to live in the kingdom of God, you don’t seek to stir up lust and then prevent adultery, but rather you seek to deal with the root, the source. The kingdom of God calls you to desire and seek a genuinely pure heart. 
So this is what obedience to God feels like - this is what it means to choose life.
Because we are presented with choices every moment of every day there are countless opportunities to exercise this positive choice.
When you could either build a wall or knock it down - choose life;
When you could either love a neighbour or shut them out - choose life;
When you could either unfriend someone or give them a call to see how they are - choose life;
When you could take all the credit for something or celebrate the contribution others made - choose life;
When you could take all the remaining chocolate or save a bit for someone else - choose life;
When you could spend all day wishing your home was as comfortable as theirs next door or you could spend your time feeding the birds - choose life.
Let’s just a moment imagine the sort of world we’d have if we took on board ‘choose life’. If we made it our mantra, our mental resolve. The joy and the challenge of walking this earth with Jesus, is that we needn’t just imagine the world that way. Today, we can choose life - and live it.
 Deuteronomy 30.19-20.
 James Alison, Jesus the Forgiving Victim: Listening for the Unheard Voice, pp. 351-52, as quoted in Paul Nuechterlein, Girardian Lectionary, Reflections, Year A, Epiphany 6a.
 Exodus 31:15.
 Mark 3.1-4.
 James Alison, altered.
 James Alison, altered.
 Matthew 5.21-37.
 Brian D. McLaren, The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth That Could Change Everything, Chapter 14, extracted in Paul Nuechterlein, Girardian Lectionary, Reflections, Year A, Epiphany 6a.
 Mark 3.1-4.