Sunday the 7th of May 2017
In today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 10 we hear these words from Jesus: “10 A thief comes only to steal and to kill and to destroy. I have come so that they may have life and have it in abundance.” Jesus says that he comes to give us life in abundance. I wonder what you think of when you think of an abundant life. I suspect that many of us would think of things like: being happy in life; having a close family relationship; having friends to share life with; some may think of having enough money to live a comfortable life; others may think of the freedom to make the choices we want in life?
But I wonder sometimes if the way we think of abundance is shaped more by our culture around us, than by what Jesus means by abundance.
Jesus uses the image of a door/gate and a shepherd to describe himself in today’s reading. These images are important because they tell us something of how life with Jesus works. A gate’s function is a simple one: to keep the sheep together in the sheepfold during the night, to keep them safe from thieves and predators. So we see that one of the purposes of the gate is to guard against all that threatens the well-being of the sheep, protecting them from thieves, bandits, and wolves.
But during the day the gate is opened so that the sheep can go out, following their shepherd, to find pasture. Both the gate and the shepherd work together for the well-being of the sheep, so that the flock thrives. Our Lord Jesus is both the gate and the shepherd at the same time; He is the one who guards and protects you and me as his sheep from danger; he is also the one who provides for our nourishment, for our life of abundance.
One of the issues that the Pharisees of the previous chapter had with Jesus, was that they had put themselves in a position of power. The Pharisees were the ones who saw themselves as the ones who would protect and save people. They saw themselves as the gate-keepers so to speak. The problem was that they did this by controlling the people and burdening them with their laws. They were demanding that the people listen to their voice, not the voice of God. That is why Jesus was so offensive to them.
But the fact is it is through Jesus himself, who is that door/gate and true Shepherd, that a life of abundance is lived. But what does this look like?
One of the important things to realize is that Jesus is speaking into the situation of the previous chapter where Jesus healed the man who was born blind. So one way of understanding Jesus’ words: “I came that they may have life and have it in abundance” (10:10), is to interpret them in the context of the healing of the man blind from birth. This was a man who for all his life had to beg for his next meal; who was constantly exposed to the danger of being out in the elements; this was a man without community because of his blindness; who was left alone to fend for himself. By restoring the man’s sight, Jesus does much more than make him able to see again.
When the man had received his sight and had been thrown out by the religious leaders, cast out once again from community and exposed to the dangers and risks of life, Jesus finds him and protects him (John 9:35). As a result of Jesus’ actions this man is now one of Jesus’ own, and because he is one of his own he has the promise of pasture, the promise of provision. The man is now a sheep of Jesus’ fold, part of Jesus’ community, and Jesus is with him always.
This man now has a life of abundance because for him, salvation is not only about receiving his physical sight but also spiritual sight, recognizing who Jesus is, believing in him, and becoming part of his community. He followed the voice of Jesus before he could see him, and it led to new life. His days of isolation are over; he now knows himself to be a valued member of Jesus’ flock, cared for and protected.
There has been a tendency by some of our brothers and sisters in Christ, to see abundance as being linked to wealth. This is known as the prosperity Gospel. And this teaching is popular among Christian circles because it taps into the world’s standards of what abundance means. It has almost got to a point where in some cases affluence equals abundance. Where believing in God means that He pours out blessing into your life. Faith leads to a life of fortune.
But the thing is that abundant life according to Jesus’ standards is the total opposite of how an abundant life is understood by culture around us. This is one of the areas that makes it hard as Christians living in our world at the moment. Abundant life according to Jesus is not that impressive when it comes right down to it and especially if we compare it to our assessments and expectations of what we think abundant life should look like. The abundant life according to Jesus is one where he gives us protection, provision, and his presence. You see that abundant life, according to Jesus, is not about wealth—it is knowing that in your life with him you will be safe; knowing that in your life with him that your basic needs will be met, and that in your life with him believing you are never alone.
These are the things which he gave the blind man, in the healing he received, he also received protection, provision, and presence that now belonged to him, both in his life on earth and forever. He then had the life of abundance that Jesus gave him; this is true for you and me as it is for this man.
One of the things that has stood out to me over the last two years as I have been visiting people throughout this parish is the way that the evil one often attacks our consciences. When we sin our consciences are burdened and it affects the way we live our life. But the good news is that because of what Jesus has done, by his death on that cross, taking your sin upon himself so that you have complete forgiveness, gives us a clear conscience before God, which allows us as Christians to live life abundantly, knowing that we have God’s favour and his protection and his presence with us as we journey through this life, because of Jesus. The abundant life that we have is only through him.
It is almost universally recognized that sheep are unintelligent animals. And the fact is that without a shepherd, they will not necessarily be able to find food or water, and they will easily get lost and not be able to find their way home. But the point that Jesus emphasizes about sheep is that they know the voice of their shepherd. They recognize the voice of the one who cares for them. They follow their shepherd, but will not follow a stranger whose voice they do not know.
There are many different voices in this world that promise a life of abundance. So the question I ask is: Do we recognize the voice of the good shepherd over all the other voices promising abundance? (However this abundance may look like to us). Do we listen to the voice of our Shepherd over the voices that want to lead us astray and destroy our life?
I put the challenge out to you all, to think about what living the abundant life means to you and to see if it matches up with what Jesus tells us is true? I encourage you to rest assured that Jesus has come to you to give you his protection; to give you his provision for all of your needs and that he gives you his presence in your life, so that you may indeed live life in abundance. And most importantly I encourage you to listen to his voice as he leads you.