“I came so that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
These words spoken by Jesus in the Gospel of John are very familiar and very beautiful. The abundant life that Jesus offers sounds very attractive, but this abundant life of which Jesus speaks can be easily misunderstood.
We need to understand that the terms abundant life and abundant wealth are not necessarily synonymous; nor is the length of one’s life here on earth synonymous with abundant life. For example, in terms of economic, academic, and social status, the majority of the deceased individuals, who the Church in its wisdom has canonized as being saints, have not come from the privileged classes. And as far as the length of their earthly life is concerned, I recently read an article that looked at the lives of 487 saints. The article stated that, “Martyrdom – Almost all female martyrs died young; males were more likely to be put to death in their forties. Of the saints whose lives were not brought to an abrupt end by martyrdom, male saints had a mean longevity of 69.9 years. Female saints had a mean longevity of 58.1. (The Age of Saints and the Saintliness of Age by Robert Kastenbaum, March 1, 1990 National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine.)
If the abundant life meant having an abundance of material possessions and having a lengthy life here on earth, then surely Jesus would have been a very wealthy man and He would have lived to a ripe old age. But the Sacred Scriptures tell us that just the opposite is true.
The abundant life that Jesus offers has nothing to do with collecting an abundance of stuff or of having a lengthy earthly life; but it has everything to do with having faith in Christ and having faith in the eternal life that He offers; because the terms abundant life and eternal life are synonymous.
We do not have to wait till our death to experience this abundant life, or eternal life, because this life begins at our baptism, the moment that we come to Jesus and receive Him as our personal Lord and Savior. Jesus Himself gave us the definition of this new life when He said, “Eternal life is this: to know you, the only true God, and Him whom you have sent, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) Note that in this definition, Jesus makes no mention of the length of one’s earthly life or of the magnitude of one’s wealth. The only key to this abundant life is a knowledge of God.
Jesus even told us that we should not be overly concerned with the physical circumstances of our lives. He said, “Stop worrying over questions like, ‘What are we to eat or what are we to drink or what are we to wear?’ The unbelievers are always running after these things. Your heavenly Father knows all that you need. Seek first His kingship over you, His way of holiness, and all these things will be given you besides. Enough, then, of worrying about tomorrow. Let tomorrow take care of itself. Today has troubles enough of its own.” (Matthew 6:31-34)
We, the faithful followers of our Lord Jesus, can, and do, experience this abundant life here and now. But in order for us to appreciate, or even recognize this abundant life, our understanding of the word “abundance” needs to be transformed. True abundance is found in the fruits of the Holy Spirit, which are “peace, joy, love, understanding, patient endurance, kindness, generosity, faith, mildness and chastity.” (Galatians 5:22-23) All of us have undoubtedly experienced the fruits of the abundant life in our lives many times, but the cares and concerns of our everyday life can sometimes blind us to this reality.
When I was 19, 20 and 21 years old, I earned a living by delivering milk from door to door. At that time, all the retail milk routes were independently owned. I did not own a route, but I knew the business because my dad did own one. I posted my name in all the creameries in the Detroit area and identified myself as an available swingman. When a milkman would want to take a day, or a week or a month off, I would take over his route for him. This kept me steadily employed for three years.
On one occasion, I took over a route for a month. On the first day of this route, I walked up to a house that was posted in his route book. I knocked on the door, and an elderly gentleman answered the door. He was very old, rather feeble, and extremely soft-spoken. He gave me his order, and as I was giving him what he had ordered, he said, “Down the street, there is a family with six children. That family is going through some very hard times right now. I want you to deliver to them whatever they need. Give them whatever they ask for; and give me the bill. I only ask that you do not let them know who it is that is helping them. Please keep my identity a secret. I do not need or want the recognition.”
I did as he had asked. The first day that I knocked on that family’s door, the mother was so happy that she cried. For four weeks I gave them whatever they requested, and at the end of every week that little old man would pay his bill and theirs. And not once did he question the content or the amount of the bill.
I greatly admired that man. His life truly demonstrated the fruits of the Holy Spirit in action, peace, joy, love, kindness and generosity. For those fruits are manifested to the world by the love that we show to our fellow man.
Jesus took upon Himself our human condition and offered us something that we humans could never achieve or acquire on our own. The abundant life, or eternal life, that He promises is a free gift offered to any and all who will simply accept His love and are willing to be changed by it.