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Sixth Sunday after Epiphany — February 12, 2023

How do we continue to live when our mentors and leaders leave us?

Year A
Deuteronomy 30:15-20

I love all things 90s! While I was born in the late 80s, most of the formative moments of my adolescence happened between 1990 and 2000. I began learning how to live life during that decade with the help of my parents and guides and mentors. I started coming into my own.

Similarly, there was an American hip-hop group known as Bone Thugs-n-Harmony that also came into their own during this decade. They were formerly known as B.O.N.E. Enterprises and this group was composed of rappers like Bizzy Bone, Wish Bone and Krayzie Bone. They started making it big around 1993 when they signed with Ruthless Records. They released two records in quick succession after signing with the help of their confidant and record label executive, Eazy-E.

Things were going well for Bone Thugs. They knew they hadn’t quite arrived yet, but they were on their way. Album sales were going well. They were booking larger venues on each tour. They were bonding more as a group. Plus, they were getting sage wisdom from their mentor at every turn — that is until Eazy-E got sick and suddenly passed away.

They wrote a song, “Tha Crossroads,” as a tribute to Eazy-E and it won a Grammy in 1997. A few of the lines from that song seem to encapsulate the existential angst they were facing:

“Now Eazy’s long gone/ … now tell me whatcha gonna do? / Can somebody anybody tell me why we die, we die? / I don’t wanna die.”

They found themselves in that liminal space between human freedom and responsibility. They found themselves about to continue their journey without the man who had been serving as their guide. They had to figure out how to live life in the next phase of their journey. They found themselves at a crossroads.

I think this is also where we find the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30 — they are at a crossroads. Moses is nearing the end of his extremely long speech at this point, and he knows that real life is about to get really real for them.

They were about to enter the Promised Land. They were about to make it! Their wilderness wanderings had been filled with plenty of ups and downs, but everything seemed to be on the up and up. They had arrived at the threshold. They were about to venture into some new territory. But they didn’t yet know that they were about to have to go on without the man who had been serving as their guide for so long (Moses tells them about this in the two verses following this passage in the lectionary). They were at a crossroads, even if they didn’t initially realize it.

But Moses did. Moses knew. So Moses put their options before them. Moses tells them they are at a crossroads, and they were going to have to pick which path they were going to take. One path leads to good things (life, prosperity, becoming numerous, blessings, etc.) while the other leads to not-so-good things (death, adversity, perishing, curses, etc.).

When Moses talks about death here, I do not believe he is talking about physical extermination. I think he is talking about the kind of death that comes through the lack of a fulfilling life. What is life without joy? What is life without well-being, hope and belief? That’s why he states very clearly the two roads that are set before them:  “See … set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity” (Deuteronomy 30:15).

If “death” here means a literal death, then there would be no more adversity. But if it means loss of living a life worth living, then it makes sense.

And in my interpretation of that Bone Thugs-n-Harmony poetry, I think this is what they are getting at as well. When they say “I don’t wanna die” I believe they are talking about it more in the wasted wandering or drifting aimlessly sense. Even after they watched their friend Eazy-E pass away, they knew that others lose their life without going to the grave. And they were at the crossroads of deciding if they were going to go the path of life and continuing or the path of death and languishing.

Guides help us learn to live our lives early on so that we can continue to live them after they are gone. They help us through our formative years so that we can come into our own when the time is right. Whether you have had an Eazy-E or a Moses or a parent or a coach serve this role in your life, at some point you will find yourself standing at a crossroads without that person. And when you do, you are the one who must choose how you are going to proceed: do you continue living or do you begin dying?

Questions for reflection:

  1. How did this passage intrigue, disturb, challenge, comfort, encourage or inspire you?
  2. What are some of the crossroads you have faced? you are facing?
  3. What does it mean to “choose life” for you? for God’s people?