A man and woman were married for many years. It was a rocky marriage. He was grumpy and critical and she was feisty. Whenever they had a big argument their yelling could be heard deep into the night all over the neighborhood. But the neighbors all knew the shouting would stop when they heard the old man yell, “When I die, I will dig my way up and out of the grave and come back and haunt you for the rest of your life!” because that is how all the arguments always ended.
The neighbors feared him. He was a big, cantankerous fellow and he liked the fact that he was feared. One day to everyone’s relief, he finally died. His wife had a closed casket at the funeral. After the burial, her neighbors, concerned for her safety, asked, “Aren’t you afraid that he may indeed be able to dig his way out of the grave and haunt you for the rest of your life?”
The wife said, “No, let him dig. I had him buried upside down. And I know he would never ask for directions.”
Do you find it difficult to ask for directions? According to one study over 85% of the men questioned admitted they hated to stop and ask for directions. In the same study it showed that women had little or no such aversion at all. Psychologists found several reasons for why men don’t like to ask for directions and the primary one is that men feel that they have a great sense of direction and they trust that sense.
But even if we do have a great sense of direction we can make a wrong turn. Sometimes in life it is more than simply finding the right turn-off or the right street. When we are talking about what our lives are about, when we are talking about what we are doing with our lives; when we are talking about whether or not our lives have meaning we need more than a good sense of direction.
In our gospel reading today Jesus says that he is the gate for the sheep, he is the shepherd for the sheep, and the reason he is here is so that his sheep, his followers, you and I, would have life and have it abundantly. This gospel selection is right after Jesus heals the man who had been born blind. Jesus had healed this man on the Sabbath day. The Pharisees and leaders in the temple had just thrown out the man because he had acknowledged Jesus as one coming from God. So it is in this context Jesus compares himself and the Pharisees as shepherds; he contrasts his shepherding motives with the Pharisees. They come only to kill, steal, and destroy. Jesus’ motive is to bring abundant life.
Well having abundant life sounds great! But what does abundant life even mean? How does one live with more life? Are people living with less life now? Does abundant life mean to be happier? Someone has said, “Happiness is only that interval between periods of unhappiness.” Albert Schweitzer once said, “Happiness is nothing more than health and a poor memory.” No, abundant life is certainly more than the feeling of happiness that comes and goes. Others tend to think of an abundant life as a life consisting in lots of things, lots of possessions. But simply having more stuff does not bring completion or satisfaction in life. Jesus said, “Don’t lay up for yourselves treasures on earth where rust can destroy and thieves break in and steal.” So if we aren’t talking about happiness and we are not talking about having lots of possessions, what exactly is abundant life?
Abundant life has several components to it. The first component is purpose. Each of us needs a reason, a purpose for our lives. Clearly if one is bored with life, that one’s life is not abundant. The abundant life our Lord is talking about is a life that has meaning; it has a purpose and that purpose is not simply about trying to make yourself be happy or to trying to accumulate a lot of things.
God made us each of us with specific gifts and graces. He intended us to use those gifts in our lives. He intends us to have a reason for living; there is a reason to be here. In fact in our post communion prayer B we ask God to ‘to send us out to do the works you have given us to do.’ God has a purpose, a plan; He even has specific things for us to do. It is interesting to note that Jesus never promises his followers a quiet, relaxing life. Nor does he ever mention retirement in the Scriptures, in fact, he promises the opposite. He tells his followers to pick up their cross and follow him. He tells them to give up everything in order to follow him. He tells them to lose their lives, and in the losing of their lives, they will find life!
Lives lived for a cause that is more than who we are, that is bigger than you and me, brings us and our lives meaning and purpose. The abundant life is a life with purpose. But it is not only a life with purposeful activity. Abundant life is also one of growth. Peter says in his second letter that we are to add to our faith virtue, virtue being good behavior, that is kind, patient, courageous and loving; and to add to this good behavior knowledge. We are to keep learning. God made our brains able to keep learning and we are to continue to add to what we know and notice the context here. So as we try to become better people we are to grow in knowledge; i.e. becoming better people includes continued learning. Abundant life then has a purpose. Abundant life is one of continued learning and growing as a person; but also abundant life is relational. Jesus calls us to love each other. Jesus the Good Shepherd loved us so much that he was willing to lay down his life for us. Through the life and sacrifice of Jesus we begin to understand how much we are loved by God. Through this understanding we are able to love him in return and this is the beginning of God’s love in our lives. And as we are touched and formed by God’s love we are to reach out and love others. We are to learn to care for and help others. Abundant life then has at its core a relationship with God with a yearning to know and experience Him more and also a desire to reach out and care for others around us.
And finally abundant life has an eternal hope and expectation. Jesus talks of life that begins now; it begins by believing in Him and then obeying all that He has taught us. But then this new life continues and goes on. The kind of people we are becoming right now through Christ is the kind of people we are going to be growing into throughout the next ten thousand and more years. We are not simply serving God right now and then our bodies die and our spirits sit around on clouds playing harps. I am not sure from where that picture ever came. The picture that Scripture gives us is far different. The picture Scripture gives us is of a life with new resurrection bodies and with us having continued purpose with new things to do and new challenges to meet and the joy of fulfilling that purpose. It is exciting to consider isn’t it?
So how do we get this abundant life? Where do we find it? It is not on a map. It doesn’t help to have a great sense of direction. We need a guide with instructions. We need someone to lead us to a door; we need to be led into the way of abundant life. Jesus tells us that he is the guide, he is the shepherd and he is the door, the gate through whom we will find abundant life. Let us truly follow him; let us reread the gospels; reread what his apostles wrote in the epistles and obey their teachings so that we can experience abundant life in all of our day to day circumstances.