September 14, 2015

Jesus told the Pharisees that he is the good shepherd who looks after his sheep. "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly" (John 10.10).

This promise of abundant life is one of Jesus' mission statements in the Gospels; it expresses the core of why God became human and what he intended to do about the human condition.

Turn to Luke's Gospel to see another of these expressions: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour" (4.18-19).

Yet, 2,000 years later, it seems Jesus' promise has gone unfulfilled. Wars rage on among nations; billions are spent on weapons while the poor are hungry and in rags; the quest for petroleum and mineral wealth takes precedence over protecting the air and water essential to life; the unborn are killed and their body parts sold; familial and community ties have been torn in the name of individual freedom; churches are emptying.

Where is this abundant life that Jesus promised? Where is the year of the Lord's favour? If God loves us and is all powerful, why do people suffer?

Jesus, the good shepherd, came to bring us abundant life, life in its fullness

Jesus, the good shepherd, came to bring us abundant life, life in its fullness

Lacking good answers to these questions, the faithful say abundant life comes after we die and go to heaven. This life is a vale of tears; that life is one of everlasting happiness with God.

Oddly, however, Jesus never said that. In fact, when Jesus asked Zacchaeus to come down from his tree, he said he would stay at the home of the tax collector "today" (Luke 19.5). Today is the day of our liberation.

Conversely, Jesus did not aspire to be a political liberator. He gathered followers, not to be an insurgent force, but to be sent throughout the world after his death and resurrection, and to preach the Good News.

The Rev. Allan Boesak, former president of the World Council of Churches, once said that when he affirmed the Gospel with great joy to a group in his congregation during the apartheid era in South Africa, one woman responded starkly: "It seems you have to be white and rich to believe this."

Wealthy whites don't follow the Gospel either. We crave more food, more wealth and more stuff. That is where our faith lies; that is what we believe will bring abundant life. The result? Outward wealth and inner poverty.

When a man with many possessions asked Jesus for eternal life, the Lord asked him to sell all that he owned and give the money to the poor (Mark 10.21).

"The story of the rich young man ends in sorrow; sorrow in the heart of the rich young man, for he is very rich - and he goes away," the late German Lutheran theologian Dorothee Sölle once said. "He wouldn't let himself be drawn into more life, fullness of life, sharing of life."


Jesus Christ is the life of the world.

What is our faith if not in that belief? What is our hope if not in Christ? What charity can we have if it is not rooted in Jesus?

What life can the world have if it does not come from Jesus who is "the firstborn of all creation" (Colossians 1.15)?

Jesus Christ is the centre of our faith. This article is the first in a series focusing on Jesus - on who he is and what he means for our life, the life of the world.

Jesus is far away and yet very close. He seems far away because the written accounts of his life are not biographies, depicting his personality and teachings with journalistic accuracy. He is far away because he is the Son of God, God's ways being so much higher than human beings as to defy measurement or imagination.

Yet Jesus is also intimately close. He is close because he is God-become-human, the God who is so infinite and so powerful that he can find a home in every human heart. The Letter to the Hebrews gives hope that one can know him: "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever" (13.8).


We can know him through the sacraments he instituted and through his presence in God's Word. When we hear God's Word proclaimed in the liturgy, Christ is present. When we break the Word in small groups, Jesus is there. When we meditate prayerfully on Scripture, he is again really present.

We can come to know Jesus and, in that knowing, bring life to the world. That life becomes most apparent when it comes in contact with people and situations where life is broken and tenuous. When life hangs by a thread, obvious is the hand that keeps the thread from breaking.

Life is God's gift, a gift that we, his followers, must nourish. Christ himself overcame death to give us fullness of life, a life we can share with those who live on the edge.

Jesus promised abundant life. He embodies that life. He is the life of the world.