Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The door into abundant life

A meditation on John 10:1-18

"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly," Jesus says. Some have taken this passage and misled many into believing their life ought to be one of blessing upon blessing, joy without sorrow, comfort without suffering. Suffering is seen by these purveyors of the half-truth gospel as a sign of weak or inadequate faith. Life, for the victims of their false teaching, becomes one long guilt trip punctuated by the constant fear that they somehow lack the faith to inherit the kingdom.

But Jesus does not promise us a comfortable life, a luxurious life, or a life free from sorrow or suffering. Jesus says of those he came to save, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly.”

Familiarity with the imagery Jesus uses is no less and obstacle to understanding what he is talking about than it was to his original hearers. Jesus says he is the "good shepherd" who "lays down his life for the sheep." Tending sheep was a common enough profession in Jesus’ day. Moreover, the Old Testament was replete with images of the shepherd. “The LORD is my shepherd. . .” What is Jesus doing, if not simply elaborating on what should be a very familiar tradition in the history of Israel? Yet, the people don’t understand this “figure of speech,” and many of us today are in the same boat. But why?

For the answer, we need look no further than the Scripture itself. “All who came before me,” Jesus says, “are thieves and robbers.” Now, think for a minute. This is all very, very basic. The coming of the Messiah, the true Shepherd of the sheep, is preceded by false teachers, pretenders, and those who would turn the truth on its head and deceive many. When Jesus arrives on the scene, a veil of deception has descended upon the people, stopping up their ears and turning their hearts to stone. They are enslaved by the false teachings of a religious establishment which has twisted the law so to make it an end in itself, rather than the means to prepare God’s people for the end, which comes in Jesus. When Jesus speaks of the shepherd who enters by the door, who calls the sheep by name and leads them out, he is employing the figurative language of apocalyptic. The shepherd gathering the sheep is an image of the end time, of the last day. It is Jesus gathering the elect, leading them out of the darkness of death and into the glorious light of the presence of God. But not only is Jesus the shepherd who enters by the door. He also says, “I am the door.” To enter through the door that is Christ is to enter into the life of Christ, which is the very life of God. That is the life, the abundant life, which Jesus came to give us.

Read it all at Columbia Faith and Culture Examiner