"Whoever keeps my word will never see death"

"Jesus said to the Jews: 'Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever keeps my word will never see death.' So the Jews said to him, 'Now we are sure that you are possessed. Abraham died, as did the prophets, yet you say, ‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? Or the prophets, who died? Who do you make yourself out to be?'"
(John 8:51-53)

It is easy to talk about Jesus' promise in today's readings that we will not see death on a sunny Sunday morning. But it isn't so easy at a funeral.

Or when a pandemic kills 51,485 people worldwide (so far).

It's not so easy in those situations...because it forces us to face up to what our real hope is, and what the Lord is really promising.

Even if we don't admit it, many people secretly hope that their faith will bring them long life, health and prosperity. In fact, there are some people that aren't so secret about that hope: prosperity gospel preachers that promise that if we only believe on the Lord we'll have health, wealth and success.

Tell that to the pandemic victims. Or the starving poor...or for that matter, the martyrs of both our own time and of centuries past.

I never promised you a rose garden

The Lord promises many things, but long life and material success are not among those guarantees. Yes, God provides for us. But sometimes that providence allows us to experience suffering and pain...and for all of us, it will include physical death.

Those painful experiences of life are as much a part of living a full human life as are the joyful and pleasant experiences. Often, they are even more important. For most people, the difficult times in our lives are the most formative...they forces us to reflect and make choices about who we really are. 

Eternal Life is This

What the Lord does promise is eternal life. But what is that, exactly? 'Pie in the sky when you die'? A reason to ignore present problems an injustices in favor of a reward in the by and by?

No. The Lord tells us what eternal life is.

Later in John's Gospel (17:3) he says explicitly:
Now this is eternal life, that they should know you, the only true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ.
Life, real life--eternal life--is to be in a relationship of love with the Source of all love. It is to be connected to the root of all life via the One who is the Way, the Truth and the Life himself. That relationship, and the hope and joy that come with it, are the real reward.

The cynic might scoff and say: so what? What does that buy you when things are falling down around you?

Plenty, actually. Bad things happen to all of us, no matter what we believe. Imagine, though, that your joy and hope is only in this natural life. Where does your joy and hope go when the earthquake starts or the food gets scarce?

Or a global pandemic happens?

Peace Beyond Understanding

Our hope and joy as Christians is in Jesus Our Lord. That's why Christians have been able to have 'peace that is beyond understanding' (cf. Phil 4:7) in the midst of the worst trials. Even facing the lions they can be of good cheer, because they know the secret:

Physical death can't ever separate them from the source of their joy.

The best news: Jesus didn't say that eternal life is something that happens after you die. It is something that is happening right now. If you really know and love the Lord, then you are already living it.

And it can never be taken away.

No war, no famine, no virus can kill it. And, when we pass from this life, we will meet the Lord face to face and know him even more intimately. That is why St. Paul says:
For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
(Phil 1:21)
The question is, do we believe it as Paul does? Or are we still hanging on to those 'prosperity gospel' ideas?

If you are still hoping in some kind of worldly salvation, I encourage you to use this Lent as a time reflect, pray. and ultimately, to surrender those ideas permanently so that you can gain something even better: a living flame of love that no one can ever extinguish.

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