abundant life

This morning I joined Chris and Natasha in their morning prayer. One of the readings was from the beginning of John 10, and I noticed these familiar words of Jesus:

"I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

It made me think of a couple conversations I had during the past week. There was talk of persecution, Jesus' example of suffering, "take up your cross and follow me." Yet there seemed to be some confusion about how this fit together with Jesus' promises that our Father knows our needs and will provide and protect us. Some say success and wealth are the sign of God's favor on his people; others say suffering is the sign that we are faithfully living as God's people. And Jesus promises both God's care and suffering for our faithfulness. Didn't he also experience both?

These powerful, apparently contradictory, promises have confused Christians throughout history, inspiring "prosperity gospel" preachers and their opposites, the ascetics. Who is right? Both, to some extent. And both wrong also.

The people I was talking to seemed to lean toward the ascetic (in the conversation, at least). Envisioning the following of Jesus as "the way of the cross," a life of suffering for our faithfulness. A heroic vision (for some). But Jesus didn't suffer his whole life. And when he did suffer, he didn't seem to want it: "Let this cup pass," he pleaded in Gethsemane.

The way Jesus lived fits much better under the title "Abundant Life." Not abundant possessions, but plenty to eat and drink with abundant friends, abundant freedom, abundant joy. In contrast to John, Jesus was called "a glutton and a drunkard" (though I'm guessing that was an exaggeration). And even in his suffering there was something of this abundant life. It was not the suffering of the despairing, the desperate. And the resurrection demonstrated that he was not abandoned in his suffering; God protected his life, even through the worst.

Jesus promised us this same abundant life. This will include persecution, as he promised and demonstrated, but this need not quench our abundant life. (Maximilian Kolbe offered a good example of such life). We can expect to live like Jesus, filled to overflowing with those things that God considers real treasure, and protected even through the worst.