Print Version May 23rd, 2005
Maybe I just haven’t reached that age yet but I find it hard to get worked up over death. Let me be clear: I don’t want to die and dying scares me silly but as to what happens next … well I’m happy right now to leave that to the goodness of God.
But it’s clearly an issue that exercises street-corner evangelists who want to know if you are saved. They look rather disappointed if you say yes. And it’s an issue that clearly exercised Jesus contemporaries. ‘What must I do to inherit eternal life?’
I guess it depends on what the alternative is. Sheol, as the first reading describes it, is horrible not for its torments but for its drab dullness. Death for the ancient Hebrews was a shadowy place where not much happened—a dry and dusty place where praise and play and all the delights of living—and its pains—could find no home.
But it is not Sheol the Christian faces at death. The story we have been told about death makes it a fork in road with the highway to heaven and the low way leading down to fire and worm and just desserts. But my heart isn’t in that story. Maybe I’m too touched by some modern malaise but I can’t see myself in hell—my imagination fails me.
And yet I want to be saved. I feel the need deep in my bones. But saved from what? … I’m not sure … but there’s something in the invitation Jesus gives the rich man that moves me. Leave everything and follow me. You’d think that giving away the good riches of life was one step too soon to Sheol and its gloomy, stripped-down place past praise. But as Jesus hints what we have we lack and what we lose we gain. Somehow there is praise on offer, an open-handed overflowing of praise, in the letting go, the letting loose.
I want to be saved from what I have. I want to well up with praise for no reason at all, but love.
And for me that is impossible. But if Jesus should look at me steadily and if I should see love in his eyes … who knows what might break out in my impoverished heart.