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Eternal Life: An Exercise in Free Association

{ Tags: , \ Jun14 }

Someone who read my article on the Lectio Divina (Parallel Texts, Textual Resonances and the Liturgy) asked me for another example of how free association works in meditating on a text of Scriptures. The example I gave was based on Luke 18:18-30.

The narrative begins with a question posed by a ruler regarding eternal life. “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 18:18). After assuring Jesus that he has been obeying the commandments since childhood, Jesus tells him to sell everything he has, give the proceeds to the poor and walk behind him (v. 22). At this the man grew sad. Luke explains that he was very rich (v. 23). Seeing his reaction, Jesus explains for the benefit of the readers of Luke how hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven (vv.24-25). At this, another question is raised: “Who then can be saved?” (v. 26). For the benefit of those who like the ruler are rich and have a lot of give up, Jesus answers: “The things that are impossible with men are possible with God (v. 27).” This exchange links the question of salvation to the “one thing still lacking” that Jesus mentioned to the rich interlocutor. A comment by Peter about the disciples having left everything behind to follow Jesus gives this latter the opportunity to answer the initial question: “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not get back very much more in this age, and in the age to come eternal life. (vv. 29-30)”

The question about eternal life is actually an echo of the one in Luke 10: 25-37 where a lawyer asks about how to inherit eternal life and is given a lesson on “love for the neighbor” through the parable of the Good Samaritan. In both this and the above instance, Jesus gives the same answer but in ways that are appropriate to the lifestyle of his interlocutors. To the rich ruler, Jesus emphasized the giving up of his wealth with the added invitation to follow him. To the lawyer who presumably has made the Law his delight (cf. Psalm 119), Jesus demanded compassion. There was no invitation to follow him since those who listen to Moses and the Prophets would also listen to one who is raised from the dead (cf. 16:31).

This initial survey about the ruler’s question about eternal life can already be a basis for a lengthy meditation on the question in Luke 18:18. By holding together in one’s mind the contexts of the question about eternal life in 18:18 and 10:25 one can look for passages in the Scriptures that are spontaneously recalled to mind. Below is an illustration of how passages can be associated around the question “How to attain/inherit eternal life (cf. Luke 10:25; 18:18)” [Click on the thumbnail for a larger picture.]


It is to be noted that however one takes those questions in Luke 18:18 and 10:25, Jesus’ answer to it will never be a-social. The hope for eternal life will always have a social dimension. As Pope Benedict writes in “Spe Salvi”

This real life (in the context of Spe salvi, “the blessed life”; in our context, “eternal life”) towards which we try to reach out again and again, is linked to a lived union with a “people”, and for each individual it can only be attained within this “we”. It presupposes that we escape from the prison of our “I”, because only in the openness of this universal subject does our gaze open out to the source of joy, to love itself — to God. (Spe salve, no. 14)

Originally posted 2008-01-26 21:23:33. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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