1 Peter 2:19-25
Jesus says, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
It is one of my favourite verses in the Bible. It is a verse I go back to when I hear people turn the Good News into bad news, when people proclaim a God who is only concerned of separating the chaff from the wheat, a God that instills the ‘fear of God’, so to say. When we hear such things it is good to go back to this passage and remember that Jesus came not to bring death and destruction but abundant life.
Abundant life raises the question though, what it is that makes life abundant.
As our moving day approaches I have been thinking how privileged I am. We sold our house for much money and bought another, smaller house for more money. And while this transaction involves borrowed money, I have somehow had the feeling that I am a member of the club. Yet I realize how fragile this is. Had we not entered the housing market when we did, we would not be in it now. I know that if our house was worth only half of what it is said to be worth, it would be easier for others to find a place to rent or own in this land of milk and honey. And so I think that belonging to the middle class and having a house in the suburbs is not what Jesus has in mind when he speaks of abundant life.
Another way to look at abundant life follows in this vein, it is the life that is successful. Of course, everyone wants to be successful, and I did not accept the call to OSLC in order to fail. And yet, the tricky thing with defining abundant life as a successful life is the question of how we define success and we remember that by worldly standards Jesus was not successful. The other problem with this is view is that in situations when we aren’t successful we may think that God was somehow absent, and yet the cross is the symbol of God’s abiding presence in the midst of human failure and violence. The lamb was led to the slaughter did not open his mouth. (Is 53:7)
I recently took up running again. I had not run all winter and was feeling rather stiff from sitting in the car so much. I think it was on my run that I came by a church that had a slogan that they were all about God and family. That is a really good advertising slogan, except that our calling is not so much about family as it is to be the family of God where all are welcome, even those with imperfect families. Next week is mother’s day and I have met a few people in my years as pastor who did not have good memories of their mothers or fathers and they were glad that faith was not primarily about being the perfect family, as much as faith is not opposed to families, it’s just not the first priority, which is hard to understand because families are our first community.
Abundant life as Jesus intends it is not limited by successes or failures, by wealth or poverty, by privilege or the lack thereof, by happy families or broken families. Because the abundant life that Jesus offers does not make us jump through hoops and rather than projecting all our goals and aspiration onto God, it offers us the hopes and dreams God has for us and for the world, in the midst of brokenness.
This is illustrated by Psalm 23. It is the Psalm of someone who has suffered want – for he walks through the darkest valley and can name his enemies – and yet he trusts in God’s provisions. Psalm 23 is not the Psalm of someone whose life is perfect and who has everything but it is the prayer of someone who in their hardship knows that with God his cup overflows.
Those who know their cup to overflow, know that they have more than they need, and as such, they know to share. Interestingly, having more than you need is not defined in absolute terms, there is no level of wealth at which the sharing begins, and below which one would somehow not be obliged to share.
There is no level of family bliss that tells us that we now must share what we have received, while if we come from unhappy families, we would not be required to share.
I do not know much about sheep, not much beyond their romantic appeal. But it seems to me that Jesus speaks about sheep not coincidentally but because sheep were sacrificial animals. Sheep were slaughtered on the night of the exodus from Egypt and sheep remained a sacrificial animal. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life in the place of the sheep. The fact that he gives his life for the sheep is the reason he is the Good Shepherd.
That means not only an end to ritual sacrifice, but to violence of any kind. Jesus is the end of sacrifice and the end of violence, and he accomplishes this by giving himself for the sheep and giving himself into the hands of those who seek to subordinate through violence.
And so we see in Jesus the one who is life and who gives life. We see in Jesus that in the presence of Jesus we become who God intended us to be,
– people who share from their abundance
– people who are freed to care for others, not only their own needs (something to remember as we participate in the life of our democracy)
– people who find themselves by losing themselves
– people who do not blame but love, even their enemies
– people who do not define abundance in material terms
– people who forgive because they have been forgiven
– people who hope because they believe in God’s future
All this is given to us as a gift. This is the abundance about which Jesus spoke. It is made possible by his gift of himself. It is more than we could ever ask and all we could ever need, for it changes not just us but it changes the world.