Living Large and Loving Life!

 

diTIhDi

Do you love your life? Oh, I know there are problems, but when all is said and done, don’t you love your life?

We sat in amazement as we listened to her story.  Around us was a shack pieced together with bits of tin roofing and cardboard and junk lumber. There was no running water, no bathroom, and only a makeshift electrical service. The floor was packed dirt and swept clean. In the room were two old beds and a makeshift kitchen. As a young girl,  she had lived on a farm with her family, but they almost starved to death. So,  they came  to the city to find a better life. She married and gave birth to ten children. So far, eight survived – two had died from diarrhea.  Each day, she got up at 3 a.m to prepare food for the children, but also to make food to sell. She would go in the early morning to sell food to other mothers as their children went to school.  I asked about her husband, and she smiled and said that she only saw him occasionally. Apparently, he had another wife and family elsewhere.

Being with such people changes you not just because they manage somehow  to make it work, but because despite the poverty and obstacles that she faced, her soul was unconquered. I knew that she wanted a better life for herself and for her children, but even in the present circumstance, she found joy in living.

At the bottom of it all, even if we don’t like the present situation, we love life. We want to live long and to live well.  In fact, we sometimes dream of what it would be like if we could live forever; that is, if we could live forever and stay young, strong, and vital. Think of the number of novels written and movies made about extending life beyond its normal limits. A movie on this topic is “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” starring Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. The story was written by F. Scott Fitzerald, and it tells of a man who was born old and gets younger each year until he becomes an infant and dies as an infant.The movie speaks to the meaning of  life, what is its quality in the face of its quantity.  Part of the sadness of this story is the fact that life does not go on forever, and what we love so much will end.

So, is it any wonder that the rich young man asked the Lord what should he do to inherit eternal life? He wanted life to go on and on without any end.  The Lord responded that he should keep the commandments. That was a curious thing to say to a Jewish man. After all, was that not what it meant to be a good Jew? The young man said that he had done that but he felt that there must be more to it. Despite his attempts to be good and to keep the rules, something in him was incomplete. He loved his life and he had all that anyone could ask for, yet it was not enough because one day all of it would end.

I want you to notice how Jesus first phrased this answer. He said, “if you would enter life.”  What an interesting turn of phrase. Let me quote Augustine on this matter. “The Lord said to a certain young man, ‘If you would enter life, keep the commandments.’  He did not say ‘If you would have life’ but ‘If you would enter life,’ defining life as eternal life. Let us first consider then the love of this life. For this life is loved, whatever its quality; and however troubled it is, however wretched, people are afraid to end it. Hence, we should see, we should consider, how much eternal life is to be loved, when this miserable life that must some time be ended is so loved.  Consider, brothers, how much that life is to be loved when it is a life you never end. You love this life, where you work so much, run, are busy, pant. In this busy life the obligations can scarcely be counted. And after all this hard work your life comes to an end. Look at what you suffer in this wretched life that you so love.”

To love eternal life as much as I love this life – what a concept! Yes, I may think that I’m living large and loving life, but in fact I haven’t entered into true life at all.  I want to enter into something that will never end. How can I inherit eternal life? The answer from Jesus is puzzling. “If you would be perfect…”  Perfect? I have to be perfect to enter into life? My being perfect has as much chance as getting a camel through the eye of a needle. Now, I know that you immediately think of an desert animal with humps, but the Fathers say that this is not what Jesus meant. Having so many fisherman in the group, he used sea terminology. A camel was a thick rope which tied the anchor to the boat. Imagine getting that rope through the eye of a needle. I’ve tried to thread needles and even with small threads and I find it very hard to do.

This is utterly impossible! What chance do I have to enter life? The rich man asked the same thing. “What do I still lack?” The Lord’s remark is telling: your heart is bound to what you treasure. This varies from person to person, and whatever binds you is your wealth. When we use the term “wealth”, we always think of money. I don’t have much money (well, compared to the woman in the shack, I am very rich), but I am “wealthy” in other things. So, I ask myself what is the treasure that binds me? I’m afraid that just like Marley said to Scrooge, I’ve been forging my chains for many years and it is ponderous indeed.

“It is difficult for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.” It still seems so impossible to me (as it was for the Apostles). The scripture says that they were “greatly astonished.”  Seeing their consternation, Jesus replied, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  There is hope that I can cast away the chains that bind me. What is impossible for me is very possible for God.  If God is at work in me, it is possible for me to sell my treasure and follow Him. If this were not so, then the command of Jesus would just be another commandment. As it is with all of the other commandments, I know that they  are to be followed, but they don’t give me the heart to do it. The rules condemn me  and this condemnation takes the heart out of me.

John Wesley once said that we must all choose between hope and despair. What is stronger – human nature or the grace of God?  If I place my hope in the ability of God to change me, then all things are possible. I can believe that a leopard can change its spots, or that human nature can change.  With God, camels can thread needles.

I need the heart of Reepicheep. Even though he had many adventures, his lifelong goal was to enter into Alan’s kingdom. Reaching the end of the world, he was the only one to cross over. The others, though they loved Aslan, had things in life that bound them – love of family and duty. These are not bad things. Aslan did not condemn them for staying. In fact, He would be with them, but they would have to learn His Name in the world to which they returned.

I may yet still have some adventures in the life, but may I have the heart of Reepicheep. May I love eternal life more than I love this life.  When I come to Aslan’s kingdom, may I will cross over with a full heart. The I will be living large and loving LIFE.

reepicheep

 

 

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