by Catherine Upchurch
Special to The Leaven
The resurrection two centuries ago from a rock-enclosed tomb is good news not just for the followers of Jesus in the past but for all who wish to find meaning in a world that is sometimes hard and full of dying.
We are reminded that at the core of our faith is the confidence that death is never the final word from God. The final word is always life.
In the Gospel of John, Jesus compares himself to the sheepfold and gate where the flock enters for safety, and to the shepherd himself who in his goodness will die for the flock (Jn 10). While John’s Gospel does not use explicit language for the kingdom of God, by preserving the image of the shepherd who comes to give abundant life, we are drawn into a picture of God’s kingdom that focuses our vision on abundance, specifically on abundant life.
In our day and time, there are plenty of voices that promote a false type of abundance. Proponents and preachers of this type of message have equated abundant life with a prosperous life, so much so that their message has been dubbed “the prosperity gospel.”
Their message is presented as a kind of formula assuring followers of Christ that if their faith is strong enough — and their donations steady enough — they will reap the rewards in financial security. This is surely not what Jesus has in mind when he says, “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.”
The meaning of this abundant life is illustrated in myriad ways throughout Scripture and especially in Jesus’ descriptions of the kingdom of God. From the lush garden of Eden in the second chapter of Genesis, to the tasty feast described in the 25th chapter of the prophet Isaiah, to the life-giving water and the tree of life in the final chapter of Revelation, we are constantly reminded that God is not miserly and, by extension, God’s kingdom is marked by a sense of plenty.
Jesus’ teachings, his healing touch and even his critique of his own religious institutions are all meant to redirect human desire to the fullness of life that God wants for us. Jesus illustrates what he knows to be true: God is generous. And in that generosity, we find more than enough to give meaning to our lived experiences.
God’s abundance comes in the midst of meager resources to crowds gathered along the hillside near the Sea of Galilee. It was such an important lesson on God’s abundance and generosity that the Gospel writers included the story multiple times (Mt 14:13-21; 15:32-39; Mk 6:34-44; Lk 9:12-17; Jn 6:1-13). Surely, the crowds who gathered on the hillside near the Sea of Galilee were fed spiritually before they ever tasted the loaves and fish. Both were satisfying.
Another lesson in abundance comes in the form of the familiar parable of the sower and the seed. Whether the seed is meant to represent God’s word (as in Mk 4:1-9, 13-20) or the disciples who receive God’s teaching (as in Mt 13:1-9, 18-23), it is striking that the sower just tosses all the precious seeds from his hands and lets them land where they may. The sower, representing God, exhibits a generosity that is certainly not logical but is lavish to the extreme. God’s kingdom, once again, is marked by such lavish and hopeful gestures.
The ministry of Jesus, marked by abundant generosity and mercy, informs our minds and hearts and still has the power to animate our actions. Receiving from God’s abundance transforms us, and through us, could reform the world.
Catherine Upchurch is the general editor of the Little Rock Catholic Study Bible and contributes to several biblical publications. She writes from Fort Smith, Arkansas.
At a time of pandemic and related restrictions, it may seem out of sync to speak of abundance, but God’s abundance is the good news we need. Receive the Lord’s grace and sow God’s love through phone calls and video chats, sharing music, laughter, sympathy and hope.
Questions for reflection or discussion:
• What messages do you notice from our culture about the value of acquiring an abundance of possessions? What messages do you hear from God’s word about the same thing?
• When has an experience of scarcity caused you concern or fear? How might scenes from the ministry of Jesus help you to reorient yourself? How might you work on distinguishing needs from wants?
• When in your life have you become aware of the immense generosity of God? How do you talk with others about this awareness?
• Read one of the versions of the multiplication of loaves and fish listed in the article. Imagine yourself in the scene. Are you one of the apostles who is worried there will not be enough to satisfy the crowd? Are you one of those fed after listening to a long day of Jesus teaching? Are you Jesus, happy to supply what others need?