A friend of mine who is a theology student at Emory asked me this weekend how I understood John 10:10: In which Jesus says that he came so that we may have life, and “have it abundantly.”
This is my reply to her…
Regarding your question, the Greek word for ‘abundantly’ is, as you know, perissos, related to peri from which we get words like “periphery” and “perimeter.” This seems to have a connection with place and location, and my Greek dictionary suggests that it has connotations related to “neighborhood” or “vicinity.” This makes me think of the Irish word tuath, which has a rich meaning related both to “community” but also to “land” — since a tribe or community is, in Indo-European cosmology, intimately related to the land on which they dwell. There is a symbiotic relationship between a people and their land, a consciousness which I fear we have lost in our society, where land is seen as a commodity to be exploited, owned, used, or bought and sold, rather than something teeming with life, in which we are bound in living trust (think “Garden of Eden” or “New Heaven and New Earth.”) All this is to say that I see Our Lord’s notion of “life abundant” has to do with this idea of a fully enriched life, lived with loving and joyous relationship with land, where we consciously and intimately nurture the land entrusted to us, to its (her?) maximum fertility, not only feeding us but also feeding all the wonderful living beings with whom we are privileged to share the land — and in our care for the land, we actually contribute back to the land’s ongoing fertility so that as we grow in our health and “wealth,” so too does the environment in which we live in a conscious and spiritual relationship.
I put the word “wealth” in quotation marks because I think wealth has become a dangerous word, mainly because we tend to think of wealth in terms not of living in harmony with our environment, but rather in terms of what we can extract from the land to our egoic advantage. Whether this means mining shiny metals to adorn ourselves, converting non-renewable resources into consumable fuels, or transforming other resources into objects that we will rather quickly discard into landfills (!), we have, I think, a horribly impoverished notion of what constitutes wealth in our society. See www.thestoryofstuff.com for more on this topic. So I think we won’t have any idea of what Jesus’ vision of perissos (abundance) is, until we perform radical surgery on our current ideas of wealth and prosperity, built as they are on competitive economics (the rich get richer and the poor get poorer) and on unsustainable exploitation of the environment.
Ironically, I believe the abundant life that Jesus promises may actually entail a simplifying of the life that many of us Americans have become accustomed to living. I think true abundance will mean a society based on sustainability, simplicity, and shared wealth — not in a Marxist, managed economy sense, but in a relational, familial/tribal, we-love-each-other-so-we-naturally-take-care-of-each-other sense. I don’t believe “abundant” life means everyone has exactly the same amount of “wealth” or “stuff” — I suspect there will always be ambitious types and then others like me who are too busy having fun to bother with making money! :-) But I think in Jesus’s vision for abundant living, the difference between the haves and the have-nots will be far less dramatic than what we see today.
Now, lest I come across as too much of a materialist in my reading of John 10:10, I should also add that I understand “abundant Christian life” in terms of the joys of spiritual practice — from contemplation to the Divine Office to lectio divina — and so, when I talk about the “abundant living” of a network of right relationships (human to human, and human to environment) it’s important to remember that the key to this abundance is Christ’s presence in the midst of all our relations: the “human to God” relationship which holds all other relations together.
If you’d like a far more eloquent exploration of these ideas, look at Brian McLaren’s book Everything Must Change.