God gave us eternal life,
and this life is in his Son.
Whoever possesses the Son has life;
whoever does not possess the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you so that you may know
that you have eternal life,
you who believe in the name of the Son of God. (1 Jn 5: 12-13)
John, much the mystic like Paul, assures us that we have eternal life. John does not say that Jesus promised us eternal life someday, somewhere in the distant future. Heaven will have to be up there and out here because that is where God resides in the popular imagination. Eternal is not some-thing. Eternal life is Jesus living within us. It is here and now and it is to come.
Note carefully what John says. This life—eternal life—is life in Jesus, life in the Son. The Kin-dom is within us. Jesus dwells within us as our deepest reality. Jesus lives in us and eternal life is Jesus conforming us more and more day by day to his image. We grow in wisdom, age and grace. The Eucharist enhances this work of divinization. Like Jesus, the Spirit within leads us to deeper and deeper union with God. Eternal life begins and ends with our belief, our faith, our abandonment to the Living God incarnate deep down within us. Eternal life begins when we recognize our utter poverty before God.
I have heard people say, “I am ready. I can’t wait to die to get to heaven and be with Jesus.” This is an escapist denial of incarnation. They really should be saying, “I cannot wait to get on with this day. I am Jesus to the world because Jesus is incarnate in me and he is loving me into life, into greater union with Abba God, my sisters and brothers, and all of creation.”
Eternal life now is rooted in Jesus’ presence in us. Eternal life is kissing and healing lepers. Eternal life is feeding the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty. Eternal life is sheltering the homeless. Eternal life is caring for the sick and praying for their return to wholeness. Eternal life is visiting the imprisoned. Eternal life is welcoming the strangers among us. Eternal life is welcoming all to the inclusive table. Eternal life is resisting the idols of empire—wealth, power, possessions.
Eternal life is not syrupy life in a never-never world where everything is always just the way we want it to be. Eternal life is messy. Eternal life is difficult. Eternal life is challenging. Look at the life Jesus lived. Jesus was the man from Galilee who lived totally for others. He felt the pain of the leper and all other social outcasts. He lived on the margins with the homeless—born in a stable, exiled in Egypt and having nowhere to lay his head. He faced serious and threatening challenges from the Romans and their Jewish collaborators. Yet he, unlike the dense disciples, came to understand that what he was experiencing was eternal life, life with Abba God, life with and for others. “I have come that you might have life and that you might have everything you need [NOT want].” (Jn 10:10) The life Jesus gives is eternal life. Life now. Life lived in union with Abba God, our brothers and sisters and all of creation.
Our challenge, alla John Kavanaugh (Following Christ in a Consumer Society Still), is to live eternal life in a society that is based on commodities. Merton believed that society commodifies us. Life is all about production and consumption. “I consume; therefore, I am.” “I produce; therefore, I am.” The mall is our cathedral in consumer society. The market is the reigning god. Greed is good. Consumption is good. Just when the producers have saturated the market with ever cheaper high definition flat screen televisions, we hear that 3-D television is being unveiled at the Las Vegas technology show—the consumer revival par excellence. Looking out for number one is the paradigm. No wonder people want to die so they can go to heaven.
Avatar attempts to point out the vagaries of consumption and greed, which Dante called “the scorpion” in Purgatorio. The tree-hugger liberals are acclaiming the film. They are decrying the greed inherent in capitalism—the greed that destroys Mother Earth and its indigenous peoples. They are decrying consumption, greed and violence. The neocons are writing it off as one more ill-conceived fairy tale that really misses all the good in capitalism. One critic went so far as to say that the movie is denouncing the capitalistic system which is making it possible for the producers to gross millions. The conservative critics are right when they say that the plot exalts white male privilege and patriarchy. They are hesitant to label it “white male privilege” (WMP) because few conservatives would want to see WMP become a relic of the past. WMP is the driving force in consumer society. As Wallis says, “It has become government of the money [moneyed], by the money [moneyed] and for the money [moneyed].”
Jim Wallis of Sojourners has written a timely book—Rediscovering Values. If we are asking what we have to do to restore the economy to its recent pre-fall status, we are asking the wrong questions. We have to stop spending money we don’t have for things we don’t need. We have to rediscover the common good. it is not all about number one and what number one can amass in silos. We have to balance the roles played by the market, government, and communities in our society.
Wallis is saying that we have to evaluate our economic life from the perspective of eternal life here and now. We can extol the virtues of capitalism which has produced a higher standard of living for more people. We should likewise denounce the excesses of capitalism that allow one half of the world’s population to “exist” on less than two dollars a day. Bashing capitalism without offering alternatives serves no purpose. Criticizing greed and the excesses of capitalism is the work of the Christian growing into deeper union with God. Merton eschewed technology and what it does to people. He was very uncomfortable with he monastery becoming a center of production. He even penned a poem to “Chee$e.” [BTW, I confess that I really love Trappist aged cheddar from the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani.]
I think that we should never freeze
Such lively assets as our cheese:
The sucker’s hungry mouth is pressed
Against the cheese’s caraway breast.
A cheese whose scent like sweet perfume
Pervades the house through every room.
A cheese that may at Christmas wear
A suit of cellophane underwear,
Upon whose bosom is a label
Whose habitat: –the Tower of Babel.
Poems are nought but warmed-up breeze
Dollars are made by Trappist cheese. (Collected Poems, 799-800)
There is an alternative to consumer society. It is eternal-life society where all people are valued not for what they can do or produce but for what they are—people created in the very image and likeness of God. We are human beings, not human doings. Jesus has restored us to paradise and it is a work in the making. Like Jesus, we who live with his life within us, are to work to set captives free, to liberate the oppressed, to give sight to the blind, and to proclaim a Year of Jubilee. Consumer society demeans and dehumanizes. Eternal life ennobles and exalts us to our true status as sons and daughters of the Living God.
John cautions us not to embrace the idols of consumer society. Jesus’ values are different. Kavanaugh says that, if people do not see us as different, we are probably not Christians. We fear for our security from terrorism and bankruptcy and yet Jesus tells us, “Do not be afraid.” “Do not worry about what you will wear. Look at the lilies of the field.” “Forgive your enemies.” “Pray for those who persecute you.” “Do not amass wealth, mammon, in silos.” “Do not ignore the poor man at your gate.” “Welcome all to the table where the choicest meats and finest vintage wines will be served.”
“Love one another as I have loved you.”