The Pilgrim God: Reflections on the Story of Jesus

112. Scenes From An Execution V: The Naked God (John 19:23-24)

On the last day of his life, Jesus gave meaning to Barabbas and helped Simon discover love. Now he had arrived at Calvary. His execution was about to begin. He was about to die. The time had come to show humans how to use the "things" they needed in order to get through this life. The time had come to show them how they should use "things" in order to live happily for eternity.

There on Calvary Jesus preached his message by action rather than by words. Just before he was nailed to the cross, he was stripped of his last earthly possessions, his clothes. He died as he had been born, owning nothing on this earth. He went to face his Father as every one of us will face that same Father ... naked, bereft of all earthly possessions. He demonstrated to all who could see and understand that living well does not depend on what a person has but what they are.

The fact of the matter is that none of us dies rich and none of us dies poor. We simply die, entering eternity as we entered time, owning not one thing. This absence of things is no problem for those living in heaven. But such absence is a problem here as we try to make our to heaven. To get to the next life we must first run the race of this life, and in this life a modicum of things is important. We need to eat. We need shelter. And we must use "things" to satisfy these needs. There is nothing wrong with that. The problem is not in having things but in things having us ... in having things dominate our lives. This can happen even when a we have nothing. As Augustine remarked:

"What advantage is there in standing with empty hands if your heart is filled with the desire for everything." Commentary on Psalm 51, 14

Having things is not wrong. What is wrong is having our things define our lives. When we begin to depend on things for our importance, when we begin to depend on our things to have something to love, then they begin to tie us down. They begin to interfere with the one great project in our lives: to follow the path of Jesus leading to our resurrection.

To live well in this life we must be free of our possessions even as we use them and enjoy them. It is a hard thing to do. We live our lives on earth as dusty angels. We thirst for eternal life but at the same time we fear the end of this life. We are like Augustine, who said once that he would not mind at all going to heaven right away as long as he did not have to die to do it.

We understandably fear death and sometimes we begin to think that we can protect our lives by surrounding ourselves with more and more things. We build walls around our lives with our things, things that are exclusively ours.

If we have enough things (we think) then our lives will be secure. We will have the "good life" because we have so many "good things".

If we have enough things (we think) we will be popular. Things will make us loved. If we have enough things (we think) we will be important. Our lives will have meaning. The death of Jesus Christ on the cross reminds us that things will not give us life, things will not help us die. After death there will be no mine or yours. In heaven we shall own nothing, because we shall each own the God who is everything.

The message of the scene on Calvary where Jesus hangs on his cross and others argue at his feet over his last few earthly possessions is very clear. We must indeed take care of our present and provide for our future life on earth, but in the process we must not lose sight of where we are going. We must not lose sight of how much we really need to have a "good" life and a "happy" life hereafter.

As Jesus died on the cross he had literally "no thing" but his life was rich and fulfilled. He had accomplished his grand purpose, the salvation of humanity. He had drawn to him some who truly loved him. He had proven to all of us that the value of our lives and the warmth of our loves does not depend on having "anything". Living well means living nobly. To live forever happy means to live a life of love. Doing that, we may die poor but we shall be rich for all eternity.

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