"Whoever Keeps My Word..."
Thursday of Week 5 in Lent
Gen. 17:3-9 & Jn. 8:51-59
God in the first reading makes a covenant with Abram and promises to make him the father of a multitude of nations. Because of this He changes his name from Abram to Abraham.
Let us focus our attention on just one sentence in today's Gospel, "I tell you most solemnly, whoever keeps my word will never see death." Those words of Jesus deeply disturbed the literal-minded Jews who thought He was out of His mind to speak like that, and were quick to point out that Abraham and all the prophets had died. They were accusing Jesus of deceiving them by promising people that they would never see death.
Obviously they missed the point. And sometimes I wonder if we have understood Jesus clearly. What does He mean when He says that if we keep His word we shall never see death?
Most of us are inclined to think of eternal life as something that happens on the other side of the grave. But the New Testament frequently speaks of eternal life as a present possession, something we have in the here-and-now. For example, we read in the first letter of St. John, "We know that we have passed from death to life because we love the brothers." Note the tense of the verb "have passed" and the sense that it had already happened. This is because John was so convinced that once we love we have moved into an existence that death cannot touch.
This is what Jesus meant when He said, "If a man keeps My word he will never see death." Obviously He was not referring to the avoidance of physical death - even He did not do that - but neither did He have in mind an experience of life that must wait until death. He was talking about a quality of living, so rich and so radiant, that it lasts forever. Not even death can destroy it.
We ought to be living eternal life here and now. The only condition is that we keep Jesus' word, and that just means striving to live the way He lived and taught. The people who do that will develop a depth, a quality, a dimension in their life that death cannot touch. Death will destroy our body but it will have no power over the life of the soul.
We don't have to wait for eternal life until we get to Heaven. We can bring a little bit of Heaven down to us and maybe even share it with people around us. How wonderful it is to think that if we are true to Jesus we can live with an eternal quality starting today.
Holy Spirit, make us aware that the happiness of eternal life is meant to begin here and now, and not with death.