The Choice—Deuteronomy 8: 7-18
(Thanksgiving Sunday October 8, 2023-19
th Sunday after Pentecost)
When Andrea, my wife, and I are starting our family in the mid 1990’s Barbara
Colorosso is the parenting guru of the moment. One of the main concepts in her bestselling book, “Kids Are Worth It” is that of allowing kids to experience natural consequences. In summary—if a situation is not life threatening, morally threatening, or unhealthy, then you don’t intervene, you let kids experience the natural consequences of their actions. It’s this concept of natural consequences that comes to mind as I reflect on
Moses’ pleading speech to his people.
But, before we get into the story, I want us to take a little detour and put this reading in
some context. One of the challenges in interpreting the Hebrew scriptures is we make
assumptions about the nature of the material we are reading. For centuries, Christians
have assumed that the book of Deuteronomy is historical material. Amongst the
scholarly community, that assumption begins to fall apart with the work of Martin Noth
in the nineteen fourties. Without going into all the details1 , Noth says that the book of
Deuteronomy is not historical reporting, but rather historical interpretation, from the
perspective of a writer and editor in the 6th century B.C.E. The events of that time are
defining for the nation of Israel—the main city, Jerusalem, is destroyed and the people
are sent to live in exile into Babylon (modern day Iraq). So, think about this, the speech
from Moses in today’s reading is written looking backwards. The writer/editor of
Deuteronomy looks at the destruction and devastation around him and wonders, ‘how
did we get here?’ ‘What precipitated these events?’ ‘How did we go from the land of
milk and honey, the land of Kings David and Solomon to utter destruction and exile?’
The answer is that the people of Israel forgot the covenant. That’s the gist of Moses
‘speech isn’t it: “Take care that you not forget YAHWEH by failing to observe the
statutes, decrees and commands that are given you today.” 2
Moses’ speech of warning reflects what’s already occurred. In the eyes of the writer and editor, the people become forgetful, complacent, and ungrateful, and thus the land is lost as a consequence of this.
The fulfillment of the promise of land going all the way back to Abraham is dependant
on obedience that flows from faithfulness, from trust 3 ; none of this is possible without
gratitude. “When you have had plenty to eat, and have built a fine house to live in,
when your flocks and herds, your silver and gold, and all your possessions increase, do
not grow proud and forget God, YAHWEH…” 4
1 A good summary of Noth’s theory can be found http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deuteronomist#Deuteronomy or in Walter Breuggemann’s book Reverberation’s of Faith: A Theological handbook of old Testament Themes, Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville Kentucky, 2002, p, 53-54.
2 Deuteronomy 8: 11 (Inclusive Bible)
3 Walter Breuggemann, Old Testament Theology; An Introduction, Abingdon Press, Nashville Tennessee,
2008, p. 272-273.
4 Deuteronomy 8: 12-14
It’s a message that reaches through the centuries to us twenty first century dwellers. The
sense of being in covenant with the Holy, with the sacred, whether a transcendent reality
or the holiness and sacredness of people and planet has little sway in our time, and we
are losing the land. The viability of the earth as our land, our home for us as a species
depends on obedience, in other words recognizing our limits and the limits of the planet.
Obedience flows from faithfulness, from trust that the planet, that God provides all that
we need for life. Faithfulness depends on gratitude. In gratitude I am the recipient of a
gift. I am well provided for; therefore I can trust. Gratitude is the foundation of all
good stewardship. A gift has been nurtured and passed on to me, and I therefore am
moved to care for that gift and pass it on to those who come after me.
If all this seems rather basic and self-evident, consider the opposite: I work for everything
I have; no one gives me a thing. I have a right to what I earn and to protect it for my
own well-being and the well-being of those for whom I care. Which attitude dominates
our economic activity? I think it’s the latter. We tend to see ourselves primarily as
masters of our own destiny, we have only ourselves to rely on for our own well-being
and the well-being of those we love. There is truth and legitimate pride in hard work
and taking responsibility for one’s own well-being and that of those we love, no doubt
about that. But that attitude means nothing, and in fact, it is a dangerous attitude if it
does not rest on a foundation of deep gratitude.
Albert Einstein was once quoted as saying, “There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” If
nothing is a miracle, then we are simply entitled to everything we work for and can get
our hands on. We view creation mostly in terms of how it is used and exploited for our
own benefit. Everything is to be used for our own benefit; nothing is sacred. Flowing
from this is that we relate to other beings and fellow human beings primarily through
rivalry and competition. Everyday it seems we are living deeper into the natural
consequences of an entitlement rooted in ingratitude.
But, as Einstein makes clear, as Moses makes clear, as the author/editor of Deuteronomy
makes clear, we do have a choice. We don’t have to continue this path. We can choose
to live grounded in gratitude, we can choose to live as if everything is a miracle. The
natural consequences of such a choice will be very different. A miracle is a gift, the earth
and all that is in it is undeserved gift. To see ourselves as recipients of gifts is to put
ourselves in a relationship of trust with a Giver. It’s not all up to us, we are provided
for. Grounded in this truth we look to the creation first not with an eye to its use, but
rather with awe, wonder and humility. We come to see ourselves as deeply interconnected and inter-dependant with all that is. The stance toward life that follows from
all this, from living in gratitude, from seeing everything as a miracle, is reverence,
reverence for plants, animals, people. Reverence for life. Reverence makes all the
difference in our politics, our economics, our relationships.
Later, in the book of Deuteronomy, Moses addresses the people again with the words
God has spoken to him, words of invitation into a sacred covenant, words meant for us
as well, “…I set before you life or death, blessing or curse. Choose life, then, so that you
and your descendants may live…a long life in the land which God swore to give to your
On this weekend set aside for the giving of thanks may God bless us with
this wisdom, that we may choose life, the life that flows naturally from grace and that is
revealed to us in gratitude. May it be so.
Rev. Joe Gaspar
5 Deuteronomy 30: 19-20 (Inclusive Bible)