Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, “Are we also blind?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; 2 but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. 9 I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (Revised Standard Version)
Based on the Gospel reading for this coming Sunday (Sixth Sunday of Zadeeg), the following are suggested themes for sermon topics:
What is Abundant Life?
“There has to be more to life than this.” It’s not uncommon to wonder if there is something more to life than what appears on the surface. There is an instinct in each of us that something is lacking, but not just something that will make our lives temporally and temporarily better, rather something bounteous and filling, something truly satiating, something eternal. Unfortunately, for many this remains wishful thinking, but in today’s Gospel reading, in just a few words, Jesus gives us a sense of the quality of life that he promised us and created us to have: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” In Armenian, «եւ առաւել եւս ունիցին,» that is, to have more life.
What does it mean to have more life? What comes to mind when we hear the idea of an “abundant life?” Perhaps we are inclined to think of an affluent life, one with an overabundance of material things such as cars, houses, vacations, and the latest toys. A life in which our unbridled desires come true. However, when Jesus promised “abundant life,” he did not have in mind for us a life with more stuff. In fact, Jesus told a rich young ruler to sell all his stuff and give it to the poor. So what did Jesus mean? All of us experience hardship, pain, loss, financial debt, vocational troubles, health problems, and relationship complications, so where is this abundant life of which Jesus speaks?
Perhaps he is just referring to life after death, when we spend eternity with him? Again, this is not what Jesus means when he promises abundant life, as wonderful as our afterlife with him will be. The abundant, overflowing life accessible to us through his resurrection is available to us right here and now. The first line of Psalm 22/23 from the Armenian (Krapar) Bible reads, “The Lord will shepherd me, and nothing will lack for me.”
In the Gospel reading, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, tells us that he is the “Door” through which we find pasture, where he feeds his sheep, providing them (us, the Church, the Body of Christ) with safety, security, love, community, guidance, peace, and hope. Emanating from his infinite being, “abundant life” is the overflowing divine life of God dwelling within us. Christ himself is the abundant life for which we seek. Psalm 22/23 continues:
In a green pasture, there he has made me dwell, and he has fed me near waters of respite. (trans. Bp. Daniel Findikyan)
The abundant life is not a pain-free, debt-free, successful, easy, or even a happy life, rather it is a quality of life that only comes through communion with Jesus Christ. The abundant life is what it means to be truly and authentically human, because it is a reflection of our Creator. By promising us abundant life, Jesus tells us that life is not empty or futile, that his presence fills every situation, no matter our circumstances! St. Paul lived abundantly in Christ and writes about what we all long to experience if we are truly honest with ourselves:
Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:11-13)
St. Paul, again, admits the existence of a difficult life, but the experience of more life within it:
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. (II Corinthians 4:8-12)
We were not created to merely exist in a daily grind with occasional moments of happiness. Jesus wants to fill every aspect, every crevice of our lives with his overflowing life, love, goodness, mercy, and healing. That means in every tear we shed and every problem we face we can have life abundantly, and we mourn for those who experience hardships and tears without knowing the abundant life that comes by way of communion with God. It is in fact at those times, when we are at our weakest, in our suffering, that his overflowing life is even more available, because we are more vulnerable and humble to partake and share it. Resurrection comes by way of the Cross. We are baptized into his death and resurrection. St. Paul writes,
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (Romans 6:3-5)
How do we pursue the abundant life that is the person of Jesus Christ? Perhaps begin by examining our values, our desires, what we really want in life. What needs to change in our parish community and in our own personal lives in order to experience today the abundant life that Jesus promised? The Psalmist begins the Psalter with the words:
Blissful is the man who did not walk in the secret councils of the ungodly, nor stood in the path of sinners. And he has not sat in the seat of the scornful. But his will is in the Will of the Lord, and in His Law he will meditate from daybreak into the night. He will be like a tree planted by the streams of waters. He shall give his fruit in season, and his leaves will not fall. Whatsoever he does will prosper. (Psalm 1:1-3) (trans. Dn. Eric Vozzy, Roberta Ervine)
Bliss, abundant life, more life is available to those who have not walked with the ungodly, but will meditate on the Will of the Lord without ceasing. It is then that we will be planted in paradise, prospering with fruit for others to enjoy. We will dwell in green pastures with an inexhaustible abundance, feeding on God’s Word, his Will, his Body and Blood. Returning to Psalm 22/23, David tells us that even in the presence of our enemies, God prepares for us a table. That table recalls the holy table at which we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, sharing the bountiful, inexhaustible, and life-giving communal meal of his Body and Blood. The Psalmist continues:
«Օծեր իւղով զգլուխ իմ, բաժակ քո որպէս անապակ արբեցոյց զիս:» He anointed my head with oil, your pure chalice made me drunk.
It was a common practice for a shepherd to anoint the head of his sheep with oil for protection from various harms. Likewise, our Shepherd anoints our heads with oil to protect us from sin, those things which are harmful to us. We receive such an anointing at Baptism when the priest anoints nine parts of the body, each for a specific protection against the sin and enemy and/or a blessing to the Lord. And again, the Psalmist gives us a foretaste of the sacramental table and chalice with an image of undiluted wine. Where else do we hear about oil and wine? Listen to what the Good Samaritan does for the man who was beaten and left for dead:
But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. (Luke 10:33-34)
Jesus, our Shepherd, our Good Samaritan, pours into us his life, love, mercy, and healing to the point of inebriation, even in the presence of our enemies and suffering.
No matter our past, however often we have preferred other things to the love of Jesus Christ, and despite our unworthiness, when we repent and commune with our Lord and with one another, there is always an overabundance of divine life available to us. In his first letter to Timothy (1:13-14), St. Paul writes,
Though I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
Abundant Means Overflowing
Life in abundance means to be filled, overflowing, and spilling over. But overflowing for what and for whom? Where does this abundant life go, who does it touch? As our cup abounds with the life of Christ, it flows over our personal desires, individual concerns, private needs, and onto other people who are craving that same abundance of life. By means of Jesus sharing his abundant life with us, which begins at baptism and which we share in Holy Communion, we become the healers of those around us. The Christian path is a life of service and love directed outward. Just as Jesus gives away his life, shares it with whom he loves, we are compelled to share it with others as well.
Recall the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22. Jesus tells him “Go, sell what you possess and give to the poor.” Then comes the result: “And you will have treasure in heaven.” Paradoxically, in order to have more, we must give away. Jesus tells us Luke’s Gospel,
Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back. (Luke 6:37-38)
Immediately prior to this, Jesus says as a preface: “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.” (verse 36). Love, by nature, is shared, otherwise it is not love, and the life God shares with us, pours out on us, is nothing more than divine love. And so as we commune with God, we “become partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4), and just as the Father pours out his mercy and love, we do the same, and the more we receive from the Father, the more we can share with others. The abundant life is to participate and share in the divine life, to be divinized – to love as God loves, to forgive as he forgives!
Much of what Jesus taught is counterintuitive, not only to his listeners in the first century, but also to us today. We live in a “me first” culture in which we primarily tend to our own needs, and only after we have taken care of ourselves are we ready to help others. Unfortunately, the Church operates similarly in some ways. Once we have accumulated enough money and resources, we will be able to meet the needs of our people, and then perhaps those who live in our local community or around the world. But that’s not what Jesus taught. Abundant life starts the other way around. We don’t have to wait for our lives to be in tact to forgive, pour out love, and invite others to experience the person of Jesus Christ. We can share the abundant life Jesus shares with us especially when we are uncomfortable and in need of it ourselves. St. Paul writes to the Church at Corinth reminding them of Jesus’ words, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12:9-10)
Abundant life is within us, as the Church and as individuals. It is the infinite, eternal, divine life of God himself in the person of the Holy Spirit, and so the source is always available and will never be exhausted.
There are many voices competing for our attention, giving us false versions of an abundant life, tempting us away from the mission of the Church. Our Shepherd’s voice alone is the one that matters. But to know his voice we need to know him, and to know him is to love him with our entire being, and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. When we do, life will overflow like we could never imagine. Anything less than an abundant life through Jesus is living less than what we were created to be as human beings, less than what God intended, less than what he desires for us. The complete giving of ourselves to others and for others is the true abundance for which we were created.