The passages we read today tell us about two of the most important moments in salvation history, moments of decision when God’s people had to decide which way to go. The first is the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. We tend to think of it as a key point in the life of Moses, but he is only the Cheshire Cat in the story, if you like, the person who can tell the people which direction they should take.
And Moses is unequivocal about it. He doesn’t sit on the fence like the Cheshire Cat did, at least metaphorically anyway. he gives the people a clear set of instructions because he relays to them what he considers to be the direct word of God.
They are to have only one guiding principle in their lives, not a pantheon of different options and creeds. They are not to pretend - to themselves or to others - that they are going in one direction while taking another that leads somewhere else. They are to show an example of just stewardship of all their resources, including the people who work for them or are dependent on them. They are to care for the weak and the marginalised, show proper respect for the elderly, respect family values and the sanctity of life, and avoid an acquisitive lifestyle.
It’s not an easy path that’s offered to them here. No wonder that they were afraid and trembled. They recognised that they were not being offered an easy choice, wherein it didn’t much matter which way they took.
Paul similarly spells out stark choices to the Christians in Corinth. They can follow the way of the cross, the way of Jesus, which seems foolish to people who base their reasoning on cold, hard logic. They can, in faith, stick to this way even though there is no positive proof that it is the right way. They can choose a path which others will despise and ridicule. Or, they can take the wrong path - the path dictated by wisdom, cleverness and power. The right way, the way of Jesus, is full of stumbling blocks that trip up those who can’t suspend their disbelief in the redemptive power of self-sacrifice and suffering, or who fall by the wayside.
We live in a culture that finds the way of the cross hard to accept. It’s a culture which believes in self-fulfilment, not self-sacrifice; in reward not loss; in healing rather than suffering; in happiness rather than joy. Christianity, therefore, remains just as counter-cultural as it was when Paul first dictated his letter. The Gospel seems to be pointing down a dead-end, a cul-de-sac, whereas we believe that it has surprising twists and turns which will bring us out at the end in the presence of God.